Entering Saturday’s matinee contest with New Jersey on St. Patrick’s Day, the Penguins could be forgiven if they were hoping for a little luck o’ the Irish. After all, victories at the Prudential Center have proven to be more elusive than the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
As it turns out, the Pens didn’t need any luck (or goals from sons of Erin such as Tyler Kennedy and Steve Sullivan). All they needed were big games from the “two-headed monster”—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Boy, did they get ‘em.
“We played a real fast game today,” Crosby said. “Everyone was creating chances. Everyone was on their toes, making plays.”
In a stunning reversal of their recent form against New Jersey the red-hot Penguins overwhelmed the nettlesome Devils from the opening faceoff. Seconds after Martin Brodeur thwarted Chris Kunitz on a penalty shot, Malkin won a draw in the left circle and moved the puck to James Neal. “The Real Deal” made no mistake and beat Brodeur with a blistering shot to the glove side at 1:59.
The Pens continued to swarm the Devils, setting a one-sided tone that would carry through for the rest of the afternoon. Midway through the frame Crosby narrowly missed putting the black and gold up by two, but his shot from the lip of the crease was denied by a sprawling Brodeur.
After Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Ilya Kovalchuk to snuff out a New Jersey power play, the Devils were whistled for too-many-men on the ice. Unfortunately, the Pens’ new-look power play sputtered and the home team pounced, as Andy Greene beat Fleury to knot the score at 1-1.
Buoyed by the defender’s goal, the Devils came out flying to start the second period. It was just a matter of time, however, before the Penguins broke the game open with a stunning three-goal explosion.
Following a judicious time out by coach Dan Bylsma, Pascal Dupuis picked up a drop pass from Jordan Staal and beat Brodeur with a bomb for his 20th goal of the season. Just over a minute later Crosby skated through three Devils and whipped a rocket pass into the slot that deflected in off Matt Cooke’s skate. Malkin capped off the fireworks display at 12:42 when he one-timed Sid’s crisp cross-ice pass past a helpless Brodeur on the power play for his 40th goal.
Down 4-1 and thoroughly outclassed, New Jersey made a last-ditch effort to get back into the game in the third period. After Brodeur thwarted Crosby’s backhander from the doorstep, ex-Pen Petr Sykora snapped the puck past Fleury from a sharp angle. Moments later, Jersey enforcer Eric Boulton leveled Kris Letang with a heavy check behind the net.
The hit only served to inspire the hard-charging Penguins. Working his own end with his customary diligence, Crosby slid the puck to Kennedy, who flew into the Devils’ zone on the rush. “The Little Tiger” cut into the slot and slipped a pass to Cooke, who flipped a backhander over Brodeur at 5:56 for his second goal of the game. The Pens shrugged off some chippy play by their hosts in the closing minutes and coasted to their 11th straight win.
Crosby (three assists) was voted the No. 1 star … Malkin (a goal and an assist) was awarded the No. 2 star … Geno leads Steven Stamkos in the NHL scoring race (87-84) … Cooke (No. 3 star) notched his fourth two-goal game of the season … “Cookie” is the Penguins’ Masterton Trophy nominee … Dupuis reached the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career … Staal has a 10-game assist streak … Pittsburgh out-shot New Jersey (44-14) … The Penguins closed to within two points of the Conference-leading Rangers … The Pens’ 11-game winning streak is the longest in the NHL this season … Eric Tangradi dressed in place of Arron Asham (illness) … Simon Despres and Brian Strait were returned to Wilkes-Barre … Asham, Dustin Jeffrey, Brent Johnson, Ben Lovejoy, and Richard Park were scratches.
The Penguins (44-21-5) travel to Philadelphia to battle the Flyers (41-22-8) at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday afternoon. The Pens beat the Flyers 6-4 in Philly on February 18.
*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.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more.