Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury makes a stop against Colorado center Ryan O'Reilly in the shootout. It was one of three saves made by Fleury in the shootout.
Chris Schneider/Associated Press
Penguins left winger Jussi Jokinen, left, scores against Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov in the shootout.
Chris Schneider/Associated Press
Penguins left winger James Neal, left, pursues Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie during the first period.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
DENVER — There have been quite a few times lately when the Penguins really haven’t looked like themselves.
Sunday night, they had a pretty good excuse for it.
And they didn’t even need to use it.
So never mind that the two points the Penguins earned in a 3-2 shootout victory against Colorado at Pepsi Center will have absolutely no impact on their playoff prospects or matchup. Or anything else of consequence, for that matter.
The simple truth is that, even though the Penguins have 50 victories this season, few, if any, could be more satisfying than this one.
Not when the Penguins, accustomed to patching together lineups because of injuries to key personnel, ended Colorado’s six-game winning streak with the most diluted collection of talent coach Dan Bylsma has had to work with this season.
Sidney Crosby, who is closing in on his second NHL scoring championship, didn’t play, ending his bid to appear in 82 games for the first time in his pro career.
Neither did his linemate, left winger Chris Kunitz.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik was scratched, too. So was rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, for the second game in a row.
Bylsma said all four have injuries, none of which were specified, that do not appear to be long-term issues.
“They’re injuries that every one of the players has been playing with,” he said. “It wasn’t prudent to [have them play] in back-to-back games.”
The Penguins were coming off a 4-0 loss Saturday in Minnesota, but their effort against the Avalanche was as different as the outcome.
They competed all over the ice. Conceded nothing, sacrificed everything against a skilled and speedy opponent.
“It means a lot to us to go out there and play like we did,” said center Brandon Sutter, who scored twice in the second period. “That’s a gutsy win after a tough one [in Minnesota].”
Sutter was responsible for most of the Penguins’ offense — Jussi Jokinen was the only player to score in the shootout — but goalie Marc-Andre Fleury did more to shape the outcome than any other player.
He turned aside 39 of 41 shots in the first three periods and overtime, then rejected Tyson Barrie, Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog in the shootout.
“I knew I maybe was going to face a few more shots than usual [because of the Penguins’ lineup], but it was fun,” Fleury said. “It was a good challenge.”
It certainly became one in the third period, when O’Reilly pulled Colorado within a goal just 18 seconds after the intermission ended and Patrick Bordeleau forced overtime by deflecting a Barrie shot by Fleury at 16:47.
Turned out that those goals did nothing more than delay the Penguins’ victory celebration.
After neither team could score in overtime, Jokinen threw a shot past Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov to break a 0-for-6 slump in shootouts this season.
“It felt good,” he said. “Obviously, I haven’t been good [in shootouts] this year. It did a lot for my confidence to get that goal.”
It had to do a lot for his teammates’ confidence to grind out a victory the way they did against what had been the hottest team in the league. Especially the way they played in the second period.
“That was some of the better hockey we played all year,” Sutter said.
And they did it without some of the biggest names on their depth chart.
Bylsma low-keyed his team’s accomplishment somewhat — “I don’t want to say it was our most satisfying [victory]. It was a good win for our team” — but the grit and tenacity his players showed for 65 minutes will serve them well if they can summon it consistently when the playoffs begin.
And while the Penguins certainly don’t want to make a habit of having guys such as Crosby and Kunitz and Orpik and Maatta spend games in street clothes, that kind of adversity clearly can be overcome.
“ … We missed the most key guys we’ve missed all year,” Jokinen said. “You never know. That could happen in the playoffs. You still need to find a way to get a win.”
Sunday night, the Penguins proved to themselves that they can.
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