Surge in 3rd leads to victory for Penguins


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WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The zealous fans at MTS Centre like to pick out a whipping boy or two on the opposing team. It does not have to involve a grudge. A couple of stars will do.

It was clear early Friday night in the Penguins' 4-1 victory against the Winnipeg Jets that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and center Evgeni Malkin were the chosen ones.

The crowd had a "Fluuuur-ry" jeer going as soon as both anthems were finished, and Malkin was booed when he touched the puck.

"That's standard operating procedure for the fans here," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

It didn't work.

Fleury withstood a strong start by the Jets to earn his 18th win, and Malkin had an assist to extend his points streak to seven games. Those two had a lot of help as the Penguins got goals from four players and broke open a tie score with three goals early in the third period -- the winner by James Neal and goals 40 seconds apart by Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis.

The Penguins went into the two-day Christmas break with a three-game winning streak -- their longest since they won five games in a row Oct. 17-27.

They are still dealing with several injuries but got one player back for the game. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek returned -- on his 29th birthday -- after missing 10 games because of a concussion he got Nov. 26 at Montreal.

Both teams came out flying. It was the Penguins who benefited first.

Center Joe Vitale's bread and butter never is going to be scoring, but he broke a 21-game drought dating to Oct. 20 when he got the first goal of the game.

Alexandre Picard's shot from the right half-wall hit at least one player in front of Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec before it drifted to Vitale near the right post. Vitale slid it into an empty net behind Pavelec to make it 1-0 at 13:59 of the first period.

"That kind of quieted the crowd down a little bit," Vitale said. "It's a pretty energized building."

The Penguins outshot the Jets, 14-5, in the first period, but Winnipeg had many more chances than shots, particularly before Vitale's goal. Perhaps the best was a short-handed breakaway by Jim Slater with eight seconds left in a Penguins power play. His shot clanked off the crossbar.

Fleury was busy, sliding, flopping and dancing in the crease. His best save of the first period came at 11:05. Fleury's stick had gotten wrested from his hands and lay 10 feet from the net when Nik Antropov moved into the slot and blasted a shot. Fleury made a windmill glove save.

"I think the first was a little intense," Fleury said. "It was fun, though, a lot of action around the net. I was just happy nothing went in."

The goaltender was not unnerved by the crowd. In fact, he kind of liked the attention.

"It was pretty loud," said Fleury, who finished with 18 saves. "It's a fun building to play in. They love hockey, and all game they were chanting."

Winnipeg tied it, 1-1, at 9:11 of the second period. From the bottom of the left circle, Alexander Burmistrov one-timed a pass through the slot from Blake Wheeler.

"Between the second and third, 1-1, on the road, especially in a building like this, we felt like we were in control," Vitale said. "To be tied going into the third, we knew we had a chance and just had to believe."

The Penguins took the lead back, 2-1, on the first shift of the third period. Neal scored his 20th goal as the top line worked its magic.

"At that point, you're feeling a little bit like the next goal is going to be a big decider," Bylsma said. "Right off the hop, we get a forechecking goal. That turned out to be the game-winner, but we kept pushing. I thought we took over the game in the third period."

On the Neal goal, Chris Kunitz started things with a long shot. The rebound ended up on the left side of the Jets' zone. Malkin dove to pass the puck to Neal, who scored from the slot at 0:22.

Neal, like Malkin, has a seven-game points streak. He is tied for the NHL lead in goals.

"When I get the puck on my stick, I know exactly where I'm going to put it," he said. "I try to get it off as good as I can."

Following Neal's goal, things really opened up for the Penguins.

Staal converted a feed from Kunitz on a power play and picked the top right corner of the net to make it 3-1 at 4:14. Steve Sullivan got an assist, his 700th NHL point.

Dupuis then made it 4-1 at 4:54. He drove the right side with only Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien back and scored from the right circle.

"I think we saved our energy up with the second period we had," Neal said. "We just wanted to finish off going into the break playing the right way, and we certainly did that."


For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published December 24, 2011 5:00 AM


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