Penguins fall late to Maple Leafs, 4-3

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This looked like a gift -- yes, another one -- for the Penguins from the NHL schedule-maker.

Yet another game against another luckless opponent that had to play in some other city the previous night, then travel to face the Penguins, who hadn't done anything more strenuous than operating a remote control 24 hours earlier.

The Penguins have padded their points total a lot lately against such clubs, and getting a chance to spend an evening with Toronto one night after the Maple Leafs lost an overtime game against Montreal seemed like an opportunity to do it again.

But the circumstance were different this time. And so was the outcome.

For much of their 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs, the Penguins looked like a team that was playing for the first time in four nights, and had had two full days off, while Toronto seemed to benefit, not suffer, from having had to work Saturday night.

"That's pretty typical when you come back from break," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "And we knew we were playing a team that had already played and had their legs under them a bit."

The Penguins were out of sync from the earliest shifts, and only occasionally got into the rhythm that allows them to dominate so many games.

"I don't think all of us felt that great, as far as our legs, from the break," winger Mike Rupp said. "But that's no excuse. We didn't do the things we need to do to win a hockey game."

The loss was the second in the past three home games for the Penguins (26-12-1), who will play their next four on the road.

Toronto defenseman Ian White got the winning goal at 18:38 of the third period, when he hammered an uncontested slap shot past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the top of the right circle.

Fleury didn't see the shot -- two players skated in front of him as White was launching the puck toward the net -- but perhaps he should have heard it, because White got maximum velocity on it.

"[White] got a clear shot," Crosby said. "A big shot."

That goal came just 53 seconds after Rupp had steered an Evgeni Malkin pass behind Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala to pull the Penguins into a 3-3 tie and, it seemed, all but assured them of taking at least one point out of this game.

"That late in the game, we should feel pretty confident that we're going to at least get the tie [through regulation]," Rupp said.

Toronto, conversely, could have had a letdown after surrendering a lead for the third time in the game, but did not let up.

"Obviously, it's a pretty deflating time to let one in," White said. "But we just kept going, [had] a couple hard shifts and it paid off."

Until Rupp scored, a harmless-looking Jason Blake shot from the slot that went between Fleury's legs at 15:07 of the second to put Toronto up, 3-2, looked as if it might be the winner.

"Bad," Fleury said.

Or maybe worse, but it didn't knock Fleury off his game, and he turned in several quality stops to keep the Penguins in the game until Rupp made it 3-3.

"I was mad," Fleury said. "But the game wasn't over."

The end wouldn't come for quite awhile, actually, but things hadn't gone particularly well from the start for the Penguins, who faced deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2.

Defenseman Luke Schenn gave Toronto a 1-0 lead at 2:28 of the opening period, but Matt Cooke got that one back for the Penguins at 5:01, when he beat Toskala on a two-on-one break.

Lee Stempniak put the Maple Leafs back on top at 16:32, but Crosby countered for the Penguins with a power-play goal at 7:48 of the second.

While the Penguins never stopped competing -- "I thought we worked hard," Crosby said. "It just seemed we weren't able to execute the way we wanted to" -- being behind so much of the time meant they were skating uphill almost all evening.

So even though they stayed close to the Maple Leafs for the entire game, the Penguins never were able to get in front of them.

"It was a game that was kind of up for grabs," Rupp said. "And they got it."


• Game: Penguins (26-12-1) at Sabres (23-11-4), 7:08 p.m.

• Where: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

• TV: FSN Pittsburgh.


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