Thiessen razor-sharp in 4-2 win against Columbus

PENGUINS 4, BLUE JACKETS 2

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Brad Thiessen got the game puck, which is traditional.

Got the No. 1 star, too, which was a nice touch.

Even got a shaving-cream pie in the face, which is a fairly modern wrinkle.

And Thiessen got one another memento of his first NHL start -- and victory -- Sunday, in the Penguins' 4-2 decision against Columbus at Consol Energy Center: A bloody nose.

Not from any of the 24 shots the Blue Jackets threw at it, but from teammate Kris Letang driving the plate of shaving cream into his face in the locker room after the game.

Whether the blow from Letang caused any structural damage to his nose isn't clear, but if it was injured, Thiessen seemed to have enough adrenaline flowing to hold down the pain.

"It was everything I expected and more," he said. "It was a lot of fun."

Especially when the Penguins, who couldn't get a puck past Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford in the first 39 minutes, ran off four in the final 20-plus for their fourth victory in the past five games.

Beating Columbus, which entered the game as the worst team in the league and will finish the season that way, allowed the Penguins (36-21-5) to assume sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

They insist they can overtake the first-place New York Rangers, who have a seven-point lead and two games-in-hand, and will have a good idea by late afternoon just who they will try to do it with.

The NHL trade deadline is at 3 p.m. today and, while the Penguins don't appear to be planning a major move, that can change with a single phone call, or as the domino effect of another club's move.

The Penguins certainly aren't in the market for a No. 2 goalie, because Thiessen is positioned to succeed Brent Johnson in that role after this season. What kind of a tandem he and Marc-Andre Fleury will make is hard to say just yet, although Fleury gave him some sage advice before his NHL debut.

"[Fleury] came and talked to me and said to just relax and play hockey," Thiessen said. "[Goaltending coach] Gilles Meloche told me the puck's the same size here. ... It was good to have those guys around."

Thiessen was solid from the start, being beaten only by Rick Nash on a short-handed breakaway at 9:49 of the second period and Vaclav Prospal from inside the left circle at 15:07 of the third.

Between those, the Penguins strung together goals by Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang and Joe Vitale.

They also had a couple disallowed in the third period because of purported misdeeds by Chris Kunitz, who surely would lead the league in causing goals to be waved off if such a statistic were kept.

Sunday, he had one nullified when it was ruled that he had intentionally kicked a puck past Sanford and another when it was determined that he had interfered with Sanford, even though televised replays -- and Sanford -- didn't back up that assessment.

"Chris was disappointed on the first one, for sure, because he tried to kick it twice and missed," coach Dan Bylsma said. "So when it went in, he was pretty sure he was going to get a goal call there. He was trying to kick it up to his stick and he said he's not very good at soccer and he missed twice. The puck ends up in the net and he thought he was going to get that one.

"In terms of the other one, I don't know if it's Chris Kunitz or a reputation we have of wanting to get to the net-front. I don't know if that's Chris' sixth or seventh or eighth goal that he's been a part of that's been disallowed. I have not seen the replay on the second one, but judging by the reaction of the fans, they all thought it should have been a good goal."

Sanford saw it that way, as well.

"If there was any contact, it was very little," he said.

Sanford, who had allowed just one goal in two previous appearances against the Penguins, looked like he might stone them again for much of the afternoon, although the Penguins didn't see it that way.

"We knew that if we kept throwing shots at him, one eventually was going to go," Vitale said. "And then they were all going to start going."

They got their goals, and finished the weekend with four points they pretty much had to take from home games against Tampa Bay and Columbus, teams far below them in the standings. Not, Letang said, that the Penguins focused on the identity of their opponents.

"At this point of the year, we don't really look at who we're playing," he said. "Every game is important. We're not looking just to make the playoffs.

"We want to catch the Rangers, and we had to win those games. It didn't matter if we were playing the Rangers or Columbus."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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