TORONTO -- It is, as winning formulas go, pretty unconventional. It also is, the Penguins say, very much unintentional. That doesn't mean it hasn't been effective, though.
For the second game in a row, they failed to score a goal during the first two periods, and most of the third. And, for the second game in a row, they ran off three goals as regulation time was winding down to earn a victory.
This one, a 3-1 decision against Toronto Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, stretched their winning streak to seven games.
"We have, in this locker room, the feeling that we can come back on any team," said right winger Pascal Dupuis, who scored the Penguins' first two goals. "But it won't happen every night. We can't make it a habit."
Well, probably not, anyway.
Although Kris Letang and James Neal both were held without a point for the first time in the past seven games, Penguins center Sidney Crosby avoided being shut out for a second consecutive game --something that has happened only once this season -- by setting up the first of Dupuis' goals.
And while it was just one assist, it was a spectacular one. Crosby backhanded a hard, blind, cross-ice pass to Dupuis, who was between the right circle and the crease, setting him up to throw a shot past Maple Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens at 12:42 of the third to tie the score, 1-1.
"You have to expect the puck all the time," Dupuis said. "He's obviously a special player who makes special plays and makes them look easy."
Dupuis went on to put the Penguins up, 2-1, at 17:50, taking a pass from linemate Chris Kunitz and beating Scrivens from above the left hash for his 13th of the season.
That goal stood as the winner because goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had denied Maple Leafs center Leo Komarov on a breakaway at 16:35, when the score was still tied.
Komorov hardly is the most menacing offensive talent in the Maple Leafs' lineup -- he has one goal in 28 games -- but Fleury said he wasn't reflecting on statistics as Komarov bore down on him.
"It's better that way," Fleury said. "You don't think as much."
Toronto had a final opportunity to tie the score when Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik was penalized for boarding with 22.4 seconds remaining in the third -- Orpik picked up all three minors the Penguins were assessed in this game -- but couldn't generate the goal that would have forced overtime.
Craig Adams eventually sealed the victory by scoring into an empty net from below the hash marks in his own end with 9.4 seconds remaining.
It was the Penguins' first short-handed goal this season and a completely risk-free move because being down a man meant the Penguins wouldn't be called for icing if he missed the net.
"I looked up and their [defensemen] were pretty wide, so the middle of the ice was wide open," Adams said. "I just shot it right down the middle."
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 20-8 and pulled them even with Montreal atop the Eastern Conference standings. It did not, however, follow the exact template from the Bruins game.
They had played well for most of the evening against Boston, but were pretty ordinary for much of the Maple Leafs game.
"They're two different games, completely," Crosby said. "The Boston game, we played well. We generated a lot of chances. We knew it was a matter of time. This one, the first two periods, we were pretty bad. It's good that we stuck with it -- we found a way to get back into it -- but we can't expect to win games playing like that for two periods."
The Penguins recorded just 16 shots on goal during those first 40 minutes and rarely threatened Scrivens.
"We didn't give up a lot, but it took us to the third period to really generate some offense, and we came up with two big plays there," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Their shortcomings aside, the Penguins did the things needed to salvage a couple of points. Their penalty-killers went 3 for 3, Fleury came through with some critical stops, and the offense was able to get in sync when the opportunity to win the game presented itself.
"Obviously, nothing was coming easy for us, but you have to win those games, too," Adams said. "And we found a way."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published March 15, 2013 4:00 AM