A clutch performance by Marc-Andre Fleury, more Malkin magic and ample time on the power play helped the still injury-depleted Penguins defeat the NHL’s top team. Fleury and the Penguins weathered a late comeback effort by the Hawks, who scored twice in less than six minutes to narrow the 3-0 lead the Penguins carried into the third period to 3-2.
“It’s nice,” Fleury said after the win. “We’ve lost a couple of (measuring stick games) against Philly, the Rangers, (we) lost them, so finally it’s nice to beat a good team tonight. It’s a good feeling.”
Despite the measuring-stick win, one of the Penguins only recent victories over a quality team, at least one Penguin felt their third-period letdown sullied the win.
“You know, it doesn’t feel as good as it should, I guess,” forward Chris Kunitz said after the game. “Just with them having so much pressure and getting back into the game after (we had) control after two periods. Our goaltender played great, our special teams, PK was great, those guys at the end really battled.”
The Hawks did manage 19 shots in the third period, scoring twice. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, however, took positives away from how his team responded in the third period, especially after James Neal took a tripping penalty at 18:31, allowing the Blackhawks to pull goaltender Ray Emery and work with a 6-on-4 advantage for the rest of the game.
“We responded well the last half of that third period,” Bylsma said. “The PK had to come up big in the end there and Flower was very good there in the third period.”
He also touched on one of the biggest reasons why the Penguins are remaining so competitive: the stellar play of Malkin, who, with three assists in the game, is now tied with Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Henrik Sedin for the league’s scoring lead.
“Geno has been a force offensively,” Bylsma said. “He’s also a guy that we’re counting on to play against other teams top lines right now, and he’s been good at both ends of the rink.”
The Pens’ power play got rolling after John Scott confronted Deryk Engelland for his nasty hit on Marcus Kruger. Both players fought, but Scott was given the extra two minutes for instigating, along with a 10-minute misconduct.
“Well, you know, to be short-handed on a play like that, it was a tough turn of events at the end of the night,” Blackhawks’ coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. “They scored the first goal on the play and, you know, they got a lot of momentum there.”
About a minute into the power play, Malkin sent a pass from the neutral zone directly to the tape of Chris Kunitz’ stick as the first-line winger was breaking into Chicago’s zone unchecked. Kunitz made a single deke around Emery for his 12th goal of the season.
Pittsburgh’s second goal of the game came off of an odd-man break with James Neal and Chris Kunitz. After Malkin fed him the puck, Neal streaked down the right side of the ice with Kunitz and opted to shoot, scoring his 19th goal of the season with a nice wrist-shot that sneaked just inside the post and past Emery. Matt Niskanen earned his second point of the game and 100th career point with the second assist.
“I approach every day the same, I guess,” Niskanen said when asked about his recent spike in offensive production. “I’ve had a chance lately, because of injuries, to play on the power play and I think a lot of points come on there.”
Tyler Kennedy, who scored 21 goals last season but has been slumping so far this year after returning from a concussion, notched his fourth goal of the season to put the Pens up by three. While on a four-on-four, Ben Lovejoy, playing in his first game since breaking his wrist on Nov. 3, jumped into the play, rounded the net and threw the puck across the slot. Kennedy found the biscuit and punched it past Emery at 16:34 of the second period.
The Hawks finally got on the board 49 seconds into the third period off of a 2-on-2 rush. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews’ shot deflected off of Fleury and into the net. Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg combined for a nice tic-tac-toe play through all kinds of traffic in the Penguins’ defensive zone to make it a one-goal game at 6:12. It was Stalberg’s sixth goal of the season.
Bylsma called a time-out after that.
“It was just reiterating what they were doing to have success and what we needed to do,” he said. “But also to stop the momentum and really just take a time-out, catch your breath, get focused back on playing the game.”
It seems like the Pens responded to that break, and while Malkin dictated the play in the first two periods, it was Fleury that punctuated the win with his 17-save performance in the third.
“They have so much skill,” Fleury said of facing the desperate Hawks in the final frame. “I guess it’s nice to see that we were able to fight them off at the end.”
1. Evgeni Malkin
2. Marc-Andre Fleury
3. Viktor Stalberg
PIT: Chris Kunitz (12), James Neal (19), Tyler Kennedy (4)
CHI: Jonathan Toews (19), Viktor Stalberg (6)
PIT: Evgeni Malkin (3), Matt Niskanen (2), Ben Lovejoy
CHI: Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa
IN THE NET:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury 36-38
CHI: Ray Emery 25-28