Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis scored 43 seconds apart in the third period to put the game out of reach for a Rangers team that had been swarming since being outshot by Pittsburgh 13-4 in the first period. The Penguins didn’t need any last minute heroics to win this time. Sixty minutes of solid hockey was enough for a team that is starting to round into form after being one of the best teams in the league despite a less-than-mediocre defense and a cringe-worthy penalty kill.
“I’ve been looking forward to this one for awhile now,” Fleury said of his record-setting shutout. “I feel happy to get it tonight.”
The shutout certainly wasn’t the most difficult of Fleury’s career as the Pens’ defense, discipline and team mindset have improved drastically in recent games.
“I think the last few games it’s been good,” Fleury said. “For awhile there we gave up a lot of goals, but I think everybody kind of tightened up and we’re more conscious of our defensive zone.”
That’s a fair assessment of a team that has allowed only four goals against in their last four games.
“We talked about playing 50-50 games,” Dupuis said. “Where you’ll get your chances, they’ll get theirs and see who wins at the end. At the same time it’s fun for a little while, guys get points, but it’s not how you win, (it’s not) the right way to win in the playoffs. We buckled down lately in the last couple weeks there and we are playing the right way.”
Penguins Head Coach Dan Bylsma gave partial credit for his team’s improved defense to a familiar face on the Pens’ back end.
“Mark Eaton, the stability with which he plays I think a stay-at-home defenseman, I’m not sure we have that definition on our team,” Bylsma said. “But Mark has been real stable back there. He’s been very good defending his position-wise, he’s been excellent…his execution has been spot on in terms of getting pucks out and making good, smart plays. It’s added a veteran presence back there on our defense and been a real big part of it defensively”
While the Penguins are still concerned about their penalty kill, recently they are limiting other teams’ short-handed chances.
“We talk about giving a team three or more (power plays) a period, you start to get in real trouble,” Bylsma said. “And then when you get over five in a game you start to get into trouble with putting their best players on the ice in those positions over and over again is problematic.”
The win against the Rangers also marked one of the few times this season that neither Sidney Crosby or Chris Kunitz recorded so much as a point between them. The Penguins know that offensive depth, something they have lacked this season, is crucial in the playoffs.
“When you look at a championship team, all the lines play and all the lines do well and that’s what we need,” Kennedy said. “I think (the third line is) getting a little bit of chemistry going here and that’s good to see. I think third and fourth lines are big on a great team.”
While Kennedy’s linemates, Matt Cooke and Brandon Sutter, are performing well, his play this year is certainly not what the Penguins had in mind for a player that scored over 20 goals two seasons ago to earn a two-year, four-million dollar contract that expires at the end of this season.
“Obviously it’s not the start I wanted,” Kennedy said. “I’m the only guy that can change it and I definitely want to play better and I want to be a big part of this team.”
If Kennedy and the Pens’ third line can click the way it has in past years, this game could mark a turning point in the 26-year-old’s season.
“In the last few games he’s done a really good job as well playing against other team’s top line in a matchup role,” Bylsma said of Kennedy. “He’s an effective player for our team and he plays a big role.”
The Penguins opened the scoring early in the game when Dustin Jeffrey found Beau Bennett streaking down the right wing. Bennett fired a snap shot from the right circle that beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist 1:30 into the first period.
After drawing a tripping call, Tyler Kennedy put the Pens up by a pair with his hard angle shot from the left circle. Pascal Dupuis roofed a backhand shot over a sprawling Lundqvist 7:17 in the third period to cap off the scoring.
1) Marc-Andre Fleury
2) Tyler Kennedy
3) Dustin Jeffrey
PIT: Beau Bennett (2), Tyler Kennedy (4), Pascal Dupuis (14)
PIT: Dustin Jeffrey (2), Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Matt Cooke
In the Net:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury (W) 23-23
NYR: Henrik Lundqvist (L) 24-27