Penguins beat Minnesota for ninth consecutive win at home
December 19, 2013 9:52 PM
The Penguins' Pascal Dupuis celebrates Kunitz's goal in the first minute of play against the Minnesota Wild at the Consol Energy Center Thursday.
Ex-Penguin, now Minnesota Wild Matt Cooke waves to the fans at the end of a video presentation at the Consol Energy Center Thursday.
The Penguins' bench greets Olli Maatta after scoring on a penalty shot against Minnesota in the third period at the Consol Energy Center Thursday.
The Penguins' Chris Kunitz leaps over top of Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom scoring in the second period at the Consol Energy Center Thursday.
The Penguins' Chris Conner is upended by the Wild's Jared Spurgeon in the first period at the Consol Energy Center Thursday.
Dave Molinari/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Someday, perhaps, all this will catch up with the Penguins.
Hard to believe it won't.
All the man-games they've been losing to injuries. All the core players who have suffered those injuries.
All the big minutes being logged by guys who were supposed to be filling supporting roles. Assuming they weren't playing in the American Hockey League.
Hasn't happened yet, though.
And, based on the way the Penguins (26-10-1) have performed much of the time lately, including most of a 5-2 victory Thursday night against Minnesota at Consol Energy Center, it might not happen anytime soon, either.
Hey, if not against a quality opponent that spent the previous evening resting while the Penguins were carving out a 4-3 shootout victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, when?
Sure, logic said the Wild had a lot of factors in its favor. The Penguins ignored it all and said otherwise.
"We felt great coming in and had a good start," winger Pascal Dupuis said. "It was just one of those nights when we took it to them."
The victory was the Penguins' sixth in a row, their longest winning streak this season, and their 11th in the past 12 games.
It also was their ninth in a row at Consol Energy Center and just their second at home against the Wild. They beat Minnesota in their first meeting here Feb. 14, 2001, then went 0-5-1.
The Penguins, who have lost 190 man-games because of injuries, got a bit of a boost when right winger James Neal returned after completing a five-game suspension. He played 14 minutes, 43 seconds and earned an assist.
Of course, the Penguins still were without their top four defensemen: Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang. All are recovering from significant injuries, and defenseman Deryk Engelland served the third game of a five-game suspension.
And, oh yeah, Evgeni Malkin -- who was contending for the NHL scoring title before suffering an apparent leg injury Saturday in Detroit -- sat out his third game in a row, too.
Those injuries, and a handful of others, opened major holes in the Penguins lineup, but nothing a platoon of call-ups from their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre hasn't been able to plug.
"We're not as skilled as we usually are, when everyone's healthy, but the new guys coming in, everybody competes really hard," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "What maybe we lack in high-end skill, we make up for with a lot of compete level and battle."
The Penguins built a 4-0 lead on goals by Chris Kunitz (two), Brandon Sutter and Niskanen and, aside from a brief scare in the third period, when the Wild pulled to within two goals and had a five-on-three power play for 106 seconds, were never seriously threatened.
And they didn't just survive that two-man disadvantage; they padded their lead before it was over.
Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, who picked up the first of the two minors that left the Penguins short-handed by two players, had a breakaway after leaving the penalty box, and was hooked from behind by Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin at 7:54.
He was awarded a penalty shot and sneaked a puck under the blocker of Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom to restore the Penguins' three-goal advantage and snuff any comeback hopes the Wild had.
"That's probably the only move I've got," said Maatta, whose mother attended the game. "It worked. I thought he got it at first, but then I saw it going in, so I was pretty excited."
He should have been, because he is just the third Penguins defenseman to be awarded a penalty shot, and the second to score on one. The other was George Konik, who did it in St. Louis in 1968.
Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who made 24 saves to record his sixth victory in a row, said Maatta's goal "kind of sucked the life out of them," but simply denying the Wild's power play might have done the same.
"If they get one there, it's a different ballgame," Niskanen said. "Things get a little hairy."
The Wild didn't get one, though, because the Penguins simply refused to let adversity overtake them. Which is something they've done a lot lately. And they have the victories and points to show for it.
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