The Penguins had dropped back-to-back games entering Friday’s rematch with the Rangers. They were not about to lose three straight for the first time this year.
Carried by the superb, sensational, stupendous performance of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury – arguably his best of the season – the Penguins responded to a 6-1 drubbing by the Rangers on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden with a much better performance, beating the Blueshirts 2-1 in a shootout on Friday at CONSOL Energy Center.
“It felt good just to make some fun saves and the guys did a good job in front of me helping me out,” Fleury said, who made a season-high 34 saves in the game. “It was a fun win for us.”
In addition to Fleury, Jussi Jokinen starred in his Penguins debut after being acquired from Carolina shortly before the trade deadline on Wednesday – scoring Pittsburgh’s only goal in regulation before capping that off with the game-deciding goal in the shootout.
The goalie’s mitt was moving lightning fast on Friday against the Rangers and he made several miraculous saves as a result – the dazzling, wheeling kind where he whips it up to snag pucks out of midair.
“Just a few tonight,” Fleury smiled when asked about his glove saves. “I was happy; those are always fun to do. It was a fun game.”
His best (and perhaps the save of the season)? Just over halfway through the third period with Pittsburgh holding a 1-0 lead. Ryan Callahan hit a wide-open Derek Stepan speeding to the net, who looked like he had a wide-open cage with Fleury caught on the other side of the net. But Fleury dove forward and did a split-pad glove save, gobbling up what seemed like a sure goal.
It wasn’t just Fleury’s glove that dazzled. The goalie’s performance as a whole was fantastic, and the importance of that can’t be understated in a tight, wide-open game like this. He finished with 34 saves on the evening and starred in the shootout, stopping all three Rangers he faced. Fleury stretched the pad out to stop Rick Nash, did the splits to keep Mats Zuccarello from finding the back of the net and stoned Ryan Callahan to carry Pittsburgh to the win.
“He was the main story,” Pascal Dupuis said. “You guys are probably going to talk about the new guy a little more, but Flower was solid back there. He’s the reason why we won tonight.”
His prowess on draws is something the Penguins specified as one of his strongest assets after they acquired him shortly before the trade deadline on Wednesday, and he certainly showed that in his first game with Pittsburgh – going 9-1 (90 percent) through the first 40 minutes and 13-2 (87 percent) overall.
In the third period, however? It was his shot that had everyone in awe.
He and new linemates Chris Kunitz and Dupuis took the first shift and broke into the offensive zone. Dupuis got the puck on the wall and sent a high pass to Kunitz behind the net, who settled it down and found Jokinen in front of the net. The puck had barely hit his blade when he wound up and sent an absolute snipe into the top far corner past goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
And in the shootout? Jokinen’s stickhandling helped get Pittsburgh the two points. He was the only player to score, getting the game-deciding goal when he galloped to the right, cut to the middle and beat Lundqvist with a sneaky forehand shot. Jokinen is something of a shootout specialist, as he’s now 34-for-67 in his career
“I think that’s my No. 1 move,” Jokinen said. “I’ve had lots of shootouts in my career but that’s the first time against Lundqvist. I just decided to try that one and I got off a pretty good shot. Luckily Flower did the rest and got two points.”
Not a bad debut.
“I think that’s a pretty good way to start,” Jokinen said. “My linemates were great; I think our line’s game got better as the game went on. Kunitz and ‘Duper’ were talking to me and made sure I was feeling comfortable. They’re two great players and it’s easy to play with those guys.”
The replays showed that the puck did not, in fact, cross the goal line. Fleury somehow managed to keep it out, and after a lengthy amount of time, Toronto confirmed it and the ref stated to the roaring crowd that the ruling on the ice – no goal – stood.
“I had no clue, nobody celebrated so I just tried to sneak out of the net in case it was in,” Fleury said. “But it wasn’t, so it was good.”
However, in a cruel twist of fate, the teams lined up for the ensuing faceoff in the Penguins zone, Stepan won it back to Rick Nash and he finally beat the seeming inpenetrable Fleury with a quick shot to tie the score 1-1 and force overtime and a shootout.
PENS LOSE NEAL
And in the third period on Friday, Pittsburgh lost James Neal about halfway through the frame. Neal was forechecking Michael Del Zotto when the Rangers defenseman turned and caught the Penguins forward with an elbow up high.
Neal stayed on the ice for a few moments, with athletic trainer Chris Stewart coming out to talk to him. Neal eventually got up and skated off of his own accord. He went straight to the locker room and did not return to the game.
“I don’t have an update on his condition right now,” coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “We’ll see in the next few days how he’s doing.”
Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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