Unexpected Penguins victory a work of heart

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PHILADELPHIA -- In an earlier time -- like, say, last week -- this kind of play would have deflated the Penguins.

It almost certainly would have defeated them, too, because their usual reaction to adversity lately has been to allow every bad situation to get worse.

Not on this night, though. Instead, the bad break that put them in an early hole against Philadelphia actually provided the impetus for what became a 4-2 victory against the Flyers at the Wachovia Center.

The game was scoreless and a little over 7 1/2 minutes old when goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ventured behind his net to corral a dump-in by Flyers winger Simon Gagne, only to have the puck carom off his stick, bounce off the goal frame and flutter across the goal line, where Philadelphia winger Mike Knuble rapped it into an empty net.

"I don't know what happened," Fleury said.

Most people, though, likely figured they had a pretty good idea of what would happen next. The Penguins, after all, had lost seven of their previous eight games, while the Flyers had won eight in a row at home.

There didn't seem to be much suspense about how the game would turn out and, as it turned out, there wasn't. It's just that the story line bore no resemblance to the one that seemed almost inevitable.

The Penguins, who had started well before Knuble scored, responded to Fleury's rotten luck by competing and executing at levels they hadn't reached in weeks, if ever this season.

"It's been a long time since we played such a solid game," coach Michel Therrien said. "We got a commitment from everyone and we deserved the result that we got."

They outworked and outplayed the Flyers all over the ice for much of the game and looked nothing like the team that has been so lifeless so often since early December.

"A week ago, that [Knuble goal] might have killed us, an unlucky bounce," left winger Matt Cooke said. "But we've come a long way in the last 10 days. That kind of sparked us to go forward and play the way we know we can."

The victory raised the Penguins' record to 21-19-4 and hoisted them into a tie with Florida for ninth place in the Eastern Conference. It was a modest step forward, to be sure, but one that could have a long-term impact if the Penguins are able to build on it.

"We have to realize what made us successful and how we're going to be successful going forward," Cooke said.

There weren't any great secrets to their success last night. They were ultra-disciplined, allowing the Flyers only one power play, and contested almost every loose puck while forcing the Philadelphia's high-octane offense to operate on the perimeter more than it usually does.

Fleury finished with 27 saves, and the only one that actually beat him came from Joffrey Lupul at 8:07 of the third period, by which time the Penguins had built a 4-1 lead.

Their comeback actually can be traced to 9:44 of the first period, when Eric Godard got the best of Flyers enforcer Riley Cote in a fight. Then, at 16:52, just five seconds after picking up an assist for his first NHL point, Paul Bissonnette earned a decision against Arron Asham to give his teammates another surge of adrenaline.

"[Godard] goes out and does a little business, took care of his stuff, and then [Bissonnette] went out after getting an assist and sparked another [fight]," Cooke said. "Anytime that happens, it pulls the group up."

Tyler Kennedy had tied the score by backhanding a shot past Flyers goalie Martin Biron at 16:47 of the first, and the Penguins took control of it with three unanswered goals in the second.

Sidney Crosby swiped the puck from Flyers captain Mike Richards to set up Evgeni Malkin for the go-ahead goal at 1:42, Jordan Staal shoveled a backhander under the crossbar at 12:25 for his third in the past three games and Cooke put an exclamation point on a sensational period 25.8 seconds before the intermission when he punched in a Crosby feed from the right side of the crease.

Although Philadelphia had a 14-4 edge in shots during the final period, it never seriously threatened to get back into the game, and the Penguins flew home with a couple of points that underscored what is possible when they perform to their potential.

"It's got to be good for our confidence," Therrien said. "If we play the right way, good things might happen to us."

Scouting report

Matchup: Washington Capitals at Penguins, 7:38 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.

TV/radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Brent Johnson for Capitals.

Penguins: Have lost five of past six games at Mellon Arena. ... C Sidney Crosby has 7 goals, 12 assists in 12 career games against Washington. ... Are 4-3 in second game when playing on consecutive days.

Capitals: Have gone 9-11-2 on road, including 4-3 victory Oct. 16 at Mellon Arena Oct. 16. ... LW Alex Ovechkin did not have goal in three games before facing Edmonton last night. ... Are 8-1-2 against Atlantic Division opponents.

Hidden stat: Fourteen players accounted for Washington's first 27 winning goals.

Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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