Losing Jonathan Toews gave Chicago energy.
It gave the Blackhawks motivation.
It gave them focus.
Gave them almost everything, it seemed, except a victory.
Mostly because Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury wouldn't allow it.
Fleury stopped 25 shots in the Penguins' 4-1 victory against Chicago Sunday night at Consol Energy Center, and did most of his best work in the final 33½ minutes of play, after Toews was injured on a hit by Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik.
"[Fleury] made a couple of huge saves for us to keep us in there," early in the third period, Orpik said.
After a fairly uneven effort through the first half of the game, the Blackhawks responded to the loss of their captain because of an apparent injury to his left arm or shoulder with a furious surge, but couldn't get a puck past Fleury when they still had a chance to extend the game beyond 60 minutes.
"He made a toe save on a rebound and [stopped] a couple of secondary opportunities," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "You need those saves to win games, especially against a good team like that. He was really solid for us."
Chicago was controlling play so thoroughly that on a stoppage in play midway through the final period, coach Dan Bylsma had a fairly animated, by his standards, and one-sided discussion with his players about how much time they were spending in their own end.
"Dan kind of gave it to us halfway through the period," Orpik said. "And I thought we responded pretty well."
Crosby punctuated that response with two late goals, making it 3-1 at 15:09 and hitting an empty net at 18:44 to close out the scoring.
The victory raised the Penguins' record to 48-22-5 and sliced their magic number for clinching first place in the Metropolitan Division to two. Philadelphia is the only Metropolitan team with a mathematical chance of overtaking them.
Whether losing two points to the Penguins truly will hurt the Blackhawks is conjecture; they are pretty well locked in to a first-round matchup against Colorado, although home-ice advantage hasn't been settled.
But if Toews is out for an extended period -- Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville would say only that he's listed as "day to day" -- it could be a lethal blow to their chances of winning their third Stanley Cup in five years.
Orpik drove his right shoulder into Toews' left shoulder along the right-wing boards in the Penguins' end with just over 6½ minutes left in the second period. Orpik also appeared to make contract with Toews' head.
It was evident immediately that Toews was shaken up. He went to the bench briefly, then adjourned to the locker room and did not return.
Orpik's only comment on the hit was succinct -- "No penalty [was called]. I think that hit happens 10 times a game" -- and not surprisingly, other reaction to the check was divided along strict party lines.
"I just saw it live, but it looked like a clean hit," Crosby said.
A sampling of Toews' teammates turned up no one who labeled the hit dirty, although all expressed some degree of disapproval.
Patrick Sharp said, "You could tell [Orpik] was trying to hit him hard. He knew who he was hitting," and winger Marian Hossa, a former Penguins player, suggested Orpik throws some marginal checks.
"[Orpik] is a heavy hitter," Hossa said. "That's his game. It's never easy to play against him. Sometimes, the calls are on the edge.
"I know him as a fair guy and that's how I remember him. Obviously, some calls are tougher than the other. Sometimes, he is on the borderline."
The Penguins got their only goals in a 21-second burst in the middle of the first period.
James Neal scored his 24th at 9:44 and Lee Stempniak put a shot between the legs of Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford at 10:05.
"Those two goals were huge, it the sense that we didn't have to open up," Stempniak said. "We didn't have to pinch recklessly. We could play a little more safe instead of having to take chances to get an equalizer."
And Fleury, it turned out, simply wouldn't allow Chicago to get one.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published March 30, 2014 10:14 PM