Missing three regulars on defense, the Pittsburgh Penguins overcame a spirited effort by the Florida Panthers—not to mention a superb 33-save performance by goaltender Jose Theodore—to capture a hard-earned 2-1 shootout victory at CONSOL Energy Center on Friday night. Leading the way was Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 28 shots to pace the white-hot Penguins to their eighth-straight victory.
Twenty-four hours after enduring a lopsided loss to the Flyers, the Panthers dominated the first period while piling up a 12-6 edge on the shot clock. The visitors nearly struck for the opening goal at the 18-minute mark, but Fleury and hustling Pascal Dupuis foiled a golden opportunity by Brian Campbell from the lip of the crease.
While “Flower” served up goose eggs his counterpart also sparkled. Looking exceptionally poised and sharp, Theodore stopped Chris Kunitz cold early in the second period on a sizzling wrister from the slot. Buoyed by the former Hart Trophy winner’s outstanding play, the Panthers snatched the lead at 7:17 on a goal by Penguin-killer Tomas Fleischmann.
Following Fleischmann’s eighth career tally against the black and gold the goalies again took charge. Theodore blunted a great chance by Jordan Staal during 4-on-4 action and robbed Kunitz twice late in the period. Not to be outdone, Fleury made a huge pad save on Fleischmann after the hulking winger burst in on a breakaway.
“I just tried to keep it simple and make some saves,” Fleury said.
Although the Panthers held a 1-0 lead entering the final frame, the ice began to tilt in favor of the locals. At 2:56 Steve Sullivan streaked around a Florida defender and corkscrewed a seeing-eye backhander past the previously impregnable Theodore. Dupuis appeared to net the go-ahead goal midway through the period when he nudged the puck in from the left post. However, replays revealed that Theodore swept the puck from harm’s way before it crossed the goal line.
Undaunted, the Penguins applied furious pressure in the closing minutes. As the final seconds ticked off the clock Staal had two glorious chances from close range, but Theodore again rose to the occasion. The Panthers’ goalie made yet another huge save on Evgeni Malkin in overtime to force a shootout.
Despite Theodore’s heroics, he was no match for the sharp-shooting Pens. Slumping sniper James Neal (goalless in nine games) beat No. 60 with a wicked wrister to the glove side. After Fleury coolly sticked aside a shot by Wojtek Wolski, Malkin clinched the extra point for the Pens with a laser inside the left post.
“I don’t think we were anywhere near our best but we found a way to stick around and tie the game and win in a shootout,” Sullivan said.
Fleury was awarded the No. 1 star … Sullivan (a goal) earned the No. 3 star … “Sully” has 11 points in his last eight games … The “Firing Line” (Malkin-Kunitz-Neal) was held without a point for the second game in a row … Staal won 15 out of 20 faceoffs … Pittsburgh out-shot Florida (34-29) … The Pens (87 points) closed to within four points of the Conference-leading Rangers … Simon Despres (recalled from Wilkes-Barre) replaced Paul Martin … Sidney Crosby, Deryk Engelland, Dustin Jeffrey, Brent Johnson, Kris Letang, Martin, and Eric Tangradi were scratches.
The Penguins (41-21-5) host Boston (40-23-3) in a huge matinee tilt at CONSOL Energy Center on Sunday afternoon. The Bruins (83 points) lead the Northeast Division.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
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