The 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Penguins were honored at PPG Paints Arena prior to Sunday’s game, and naturally two of the five remaining members from that squad scored decisive goals to carry the Pens to another home victory.
It’s just not the two you were thinking of.
Both Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz sent the home crowd in a frenzy when they each found the back of the net in the 3rd period, giving Pittsburgh (26-8-5) an avalanche of insurance to finish off Tampa Bay 19-19-4), 6-2.
Kunitz’s goal marked his 164th of his career tying him for 10th all-time with Ron Francis on the Penguins leaderboard.
Letang ended the scoring with a one-timer of his own from the face-off circle with just over a minute left in the game.
“It’s great for him. He helps us win in so many ways, and he plays the game so hard,” said Coach Mike Sullivan of Kunitz. “To see him get rewarded is great, he’s deserving. We felt as though his game was coming, it was a matter of time and he just has to stay with it. Hopefully he can continue to put goals in the net for us.”
The Penguins pasted 40 shots on Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who surrendered six goals to six different players, including Conor Sheary who scored his 10th goal of the season, pushing in a puck stuck between the netminder and pay-dirt off a one-timer by Bryan Rust to kick off the scoring for Pittsburgh early in the second period.
“I thought it was pretty good I liked our energy and our compete level,” Sullivan said of his team’s performance Sunday. “We were a little bit rusty passing the puck sometimes, but it wasn’t anything we didn’t expect. They were prepared from a mindset level to compete and we knew that was a dangerous team that could score goals on you.”
Another member of that magical 2009 season, goalie Marc Andre-Fleury continued to show his consistent value eight years later, stopping 28 of 30 shots, keeping things behind the blue line quiet after the Lightning scored a go-ahead goal (Jonathan Drouin) with just two minutes expired in the 2nd period.
Fleury has not lost a game in regulation since Nov. 25.
“I thought after the first 10 minutes Flower made some big saves early and that got us going,” said Sidney Crosby, who finished +2 with two assists in 16:59 of ice time. “I thought we really raised our chances and got more opportunities after that point.
Averaging a league-best 3.4 goals per game, Pittsburgh has put together it’s best at home, not losing a game in regulation at the paint can since a 5-2 loss to the Rangers Nov. 21. The Penguins scored four or more goals in 11 of its last 12 home contests.
“You want to be good at home obviously, you have your crowd, you feed off of that. It’s important we establish that,” said Crosby. “When we’re here we try to use that advantage at best we can. We play really good hockey here and I think it has to do with the energy we get from the crowd, but having that mentality that we have to win here.”
“I think our team enjoys playing in front of our fans,” Sullivan said of the home success. “We have a terrific fan base that is so supportive of this team. I know they give us a boost. Certainly we’ve been able to string some wins together at home and that is important for us moving forward when the stakes start to get high down the stretch.”
Eric Fehr (5), Scott Wilson (5) and Phil Kessel (13) all found the back of the net in Sunday’s game.
After the Moneyline
The Penguins, as per usual carried the heaviest chalk of the night, as they were -235 favorites against Tampa. Pittsburgh has yet to lose this season as a -200 or more favorite.
It took just 5:40 of the 3rd period to seal the deal on the 5.5 total set for the night, as three goals—two by the Penguins—pushed the game over the mark. Five goals were scored in the 3rd period total, with four of them coming from the Penguins.
The Penguins kick off leg one of an arduous five of six-game road trip when they visit D.C. in a date with the Capitals, Wednesday, Jan. 11. Puck drops at 8 PM.