Sunday, April 4, 2010

Comeback Kids!

It has often been referred to amongst Pens fans as their "on-switch" or their "extra level" when talking about how the Penguins sometimes have the ability to raise their game to new heights near the end of games. Some days they flip that switch very early in games and put it away, some games they are too late and can not raise their game enough, but their timing was impeccable on Saturday as they "flipped the switch" just in time to tie the game up with 74 seconds remaining and win 4-3 in overtime. Nearly the entire game was a comeback, as the Pens did not take the lead until Jordan Leopold scored his first goal as a Penguin little over halfway through overtime. Leopold, who was a trade deadline acquistion from Florida, picked up the puck in the neutral zone off a Sidney Crosby backcheck and took the puck into the corner boards. He then made a spin move around Thrashers' defenseman Mark Popovic and threw a shot on net that trickled its way past Johan Hedberg to give the Penguins the win and 2 points to stay tied with the New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic Division. (Devils beat the Hurricanes 4-0 Saturday) While Leopold sealed the deal, it was the return of center Evgeni Malkin (who missed 7 out of 8 with foot injury) and defenseman Sergei Gonchar (who missed 4 with strep throat) that was the driving force for Pittsburgh. After giving up a late goal at the end of the first to Maxim Afinogenov, Malkin tied the game up with a quick snap shot powerplay goal that tied the game up midway through the second. While the Thrashers did manage another late goal at the end of the 2nd (Tim Stapleton), the Pens would again have an answer. Sidney Crosby threw a shot off Hedberg's pads that bounced right onto Tyler Kennedy's stick, who put the puck into an empty net to tie the game up 3 and a half minutes into the third. This joy would be short-lived, however, as Rich Peverley scored 1:04 later to put the Thrashers up again. It appeared to be another tough loss in the making for the Pens, as the Thrashers began to fall into an "infamous" trap defense (same used by Devils and Lightning). That was, until, Jim Slater got called for holding, giving Pittsburgh one last powerplay to tie the game up. That turned out to be all they needed. The play started with Evgeni Malkin dashing into the zone, but rather than take the shot, he dropped it back to Sergei Gonchar for one of his signature "cannon" slapshots. Gonchar beat Hedberg low side sending Mellon Arena into a frenzy and igniting the passion shown by many fans in overtime. This was a crucial win for Pittsburgh, who was surrounded by some doubt after their lackluster performance against Tampa Bay. This win may help to break some of that doubt, though there is still work to be done within the division. Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves for Pittsburgh, including one where he denied Maxim Afinogenov an empty goal on the powerplay. Though the story of the game centered around the return of Malkin and Gonchar, the Pens may not yet be in the clear on the injury front as forward Chris Kunitz left the game with an undisclosed injury. Atlanta faced similar problems, losing Bryan Little in the beginning of the 2nd. Hopefully both of those players and their teams will overcome those difficulties in the last week of the season. The Penguins have 4 remaining games on their schedule, the next being Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals coming perhaps to their last game at Mellon Arena (except for the possibility of a playoff series) Even though Washington has clinched the number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, expect their best performance in this final regular season matchup between these two rivals

No comments: