The Penguins' Brian Gibbons is pulled down by the Red Wings' Brian Lashoff at Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There’s a pretty good chance the Penguins and Detroit will collide in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If so, it’s hard to say exactly how the series will play out, because there are so many elite talents on both sides.
This much, however, is certain: None of the games would be settled by a shootout, the way it was Wednesday night in the Penguins’ 4-3 victory at Consol Energy Center.
That surely is of great comfort to purists, who like that playoff games go on indefinitely until a winning goal is scored. But while the sideshow that is a shootout has more than a few critics, it does produce an occasional memorable snapshot. Or, in this case, two of them.
The first came in Round 1 of the shootout, when Detroit’s Daniel Alfredsson moved in on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and seemed likely to score, only to have Fleury flop onto his back while extending his left arm to prevent the puck from reaching the goal line.
“It’s the first time in a game I’ve made that save,” Fleury said.
Yeah, him and just about every other human this side of Dominik Hasek.
Two rounds later, Jussi Jokinen of the Penguins scored the shootout-deciding goal in a most unusual way: He lost control of the puck, only to have it hit the stick of goalie Jonas Gustavsson and flutter into the net.
“I haven’t seen that before,” said Jokinen, who has scored a shootout-deciding goal in consecutive games after failing to convert on his first six shootout attempts this season.
“I guess I’ve been a little bit unlucky this year for the shootout,” he said. “I’ve hit a couple of posts, and goalies have made good saves. So maybe I was a little bit due for good luck.”
The game meant nothing in the standings for the Penguins, who are 51-24-5 and won the season series from Detroit, because they are locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
It did earn a historical footnote, though, because the victory was their 100th in the regular season at Consol Energy Center.
More important, it was defenseman Kris Letang’s first game back after sitting out 26 while recovering from a stroke, and he has the potential to be a difference-maker in a competitive series.
While his performance against the Red Wings isn’t going to inspire a late-season surge of support in voting for the Norris Trophy, it was fairly solid, especially under the circumstances.
“He’s been out a couple of months, and he looked pretty darned good out there,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Letang logged 22 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time and was credited with an assist, two shots, one hit, three blocked shots and two giveaways.
“I had a lot of fun,” he said. “It was not perfect, structure-wise, for me, but I’m just happy to be on the ice. I was just glad to play.”
His teammates seemed happy to have Letang back and figure to be even more pleased if he can get his game fully back in synch.
“I have to get my timing back,” he said. “Hockey is a lot about timing.
“Maybe it’s going to take a week. Maybe it’s going to take two weeks.”
Timing wasn’t an issue for the Penguins’ power play, which converted 2 of 4 chances, with James Neal getting both those goals during the second period.
“James was playing with speed and shooting the puck,” Jokinen said. “When he does those two things, he’s a tough player to stop.”
Even when he isn’t one of the guys who does something that defies logic and the laws of physics during a shootout.
NOTES — Detroit listed five injured players, headlined by Henrik Zetterberg. … The Penguins assigned forward Andrew Ebbett to their minor league team in Wilkes-Barre. … Malkin and Conner, both of whom have foot injuries, skated before the Penguins’ game-day skate.
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