Penguins 6 – Thrashers 3
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
Sidney Crosby extended his scoring streak to the quarter-century mark with a four-point game that included a pair of first-period goals and two assists on tallies by Chris Kunitz and Matt Cooke in the Penguins’ 6-3 victory over the Thrashers. The Penguins erased two one-goal deficits to keep up with Atlanta before taking the lead in the second period and exploding for three goals in the third in a game that was surprisingly entertaining for a mid-season match against an out-of-division team with no history of a rivalry. With the win the Penguins have won 16 of 19 games. With his four points, Crosby joins Wayne Gretzky (1990-1991), Bryan Trottier (1981-1982), Brett Hull (1991-1992) and Bernie Nicholls (1984-1985) as players with 25 game streaks.
The Thrashers jumped out to an early lead following a faceoff win in their defensive zone. Evander Kane, on a 2-on-1 with Bryan Little, put a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury just 47 seconds into the game for his 12th goal of the season. Chris Kunitz drew the Penguins’ second power play of the game, though, a hooking call, after a speedy breakaway and 2-on-1 chance between he and Pascal Dupuis, and the Penguins didn’t waste their opportunity. Kris Letang made an excellent play to keep the puck in the offensive zone before feeding Crosby who was standing below the right circle. Crosby fired a one-timer past Thrashers’ goalie Ondrej Pavelec to knot the score at one. Fleury scrambled to keep the score tied after that, stonewalling the Thrashers on excellent shots and rebound attempts.
Back-to-back penalties proved to be too much for Fleury and the league’s number one PK unit against the Thrasher’s second-best road power play as Dustin Byfuglien scored from the point on the Thrashers’ third man-advantage. The goal came after the Penguins managed to kill 15 seconds of 5-on-3 time after penalties to Evgeni Malkin and Matt Cooke. Malkin’s penalty expired without incident, but the Thrashers capitalized on Cooke’s kneeing offense
The Penguins got into more penalty trouble when referees called Alex Goligoski for hooking. This time the penalty kill gave the Penguins momentum, and almost as soon as Goligoski left the box he assisted Crosby on his second game-tying goal of the night. The Penguins’ captain split Atlanta’s defense after taking a long toss from Goligoski and firing a wrist shot under the crossbar.
The game kept it’s fast pace in the second period, with one highlight being a monster shift by Malkin. Malkin had a chance to give the Pens their first lead after firing a shot on net and picking up his own rebound only to throw the puck straight through the crease. It was Craig Adams, not Evgeni Malkin, who gave the Penguins’ the lead with a short-handed goal. Adams’ tally came right after he stepped onto the ice on the penalty kill when a battle won on the boards by Matt Cooke came right to him in the slot. Adams fired a shot that beat Pavelec high glove-side for his second goal of the season, allowing the Penguins to enter the third period with a 3-2 lead.
Kunitz scored 9 seconds into the third period to put the Penguins up by a pair. After breaking into Atlanta’s zone, Crosby fed Kunitz from below the goal line, allowing the scrappy winger to bang in his 10 of the season from inside the crease. The Penguins’ penalty kill shined again when they faced another 5-on-3, this time for 1:14, when Matt Cooke and Kris Letang took minor penalties 46 seconds apart. The Penguins’ killers stifled both Atlanta opportunities to preserve their two-goal cushion.
Mark Letestu extended the lead to three with an unassisted goal 13 minutes into the third period. After some hard work muscling the puck away from Atlanta forward Alexander Burmistrov in front of the Thrashers’ goal, Letestu skated in alone on Pavelec and squeezed the puck in-between the goalie’s pad and the right post. With 3:44 remaining it seemed as though Crosby scored his second hat trick in two games against the Thrashers, but fans at the Consol will want their baseball caps and ski hats back as a lengthy review showed Matt Cooke deflected in Crosby’s blast from the center point. Marc-Andre Fleury surrendered a third goal, a rebound buried by Eric Boulton that made the score 6-3 with 3:09 remaining in the game, not enough time for the Thrashers to mount a comeback effort. The game’s three stars were Sidney Crosby (1), Matt Cooke (2), and Craig Adams (3).
“I gave him a hard time. I knew he touched (the puck).” — Sidney Crosby on Matt Cooke’s redirect
“We still didn’t have a good first period. It’s not what we want to pride ourselves on. We were even coming out into the second. We came out determined to play the right way and get on them, and we were able to take the lead.” — Matt Cooke, on the Penguins’ slow start and resilience
Goals: PIT: Sidney Crosby – 2 (32), Craig Adams (2), Chris Kunitz (10), Mark Letestu (8), Matt Cooke (8) ATL: Evander Kane (12) Dustin Byfuglien (14) Eric Boulton (5)
Assists: PIT: Kris Letang, Alex Goligoski, Matt Cooke, Sidney Crosby – 2, Pascal Dupuis, Zbynek Michalek ATL: Bryan Little, 2, Alexander Burmistrov, Tobias Enstrom, Jim Slater, Chris Thorburn
IN THE NET
Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves on 34 shots. Ondrej Pavelec turned aside 30 of 36 shots.
Pittsburgh 1-3; Thrashers 1-8.
The Penguins travel to Long Island to face the hapless Islanders (9-19-6).