Kessel scores twice as Penguins beat Red Wings, 6-3
February 18, 2016 11:43 PM
Penguins' Phil Kessel is congratulated after scoring against the Red Wings in the second period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save against the Red Wings in the second period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins' Sidney Crosby heads to congratulate Phil Kessel on his goal on Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek in the third period Thursday at Consol Energy Center.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Marc-Andre Fleury has been credited with 1,155 saves this season.
Few have been more spectacular — and possibly, more significant — than the one he made with five minutes left in the second period of the Penguins’ 6-3 victory against Detroit at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins were trying to protect a 3-2 lead when Fleury stopped a backhander from the front lip of the crease by Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, only to have Justin Abdelkader charge toward the net to claim the rebound.
Abdelkader made contact with the puck as he approached the blue paint, then bowled into Fleury after entering the crease.
Fleury was knocked to the back of the net, but still managed to use his stick to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.
The goal might well have been waved off if Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had challenged on the basis of goaltender interference, but Fleury rendered the issue moot by not allowing the puck into his net.
“I thought it had gone into the net,” Penguins center Matt Cullen said. “Everything went in the net. Then, I saw the replay. It was a pretty exceptional save.”
Fleury characterized his stop on Abdelkader as “desperation.”
“Decisive” would have been a pretty fair description, too, for just 106 seconds later, Penguins winger Scott Wilson scored his first NHL goal, which proved to be the winner.
“Things like [Fleury’s save], to some people go unnoticed,” Wilson said. “That’s a big momentum swing for us.”
The victory raised the Penguins’ record to 29-19-8 and moved them into a tie with Tampa Bay for the first Eastern Conference wild-card playoff berth, two points ahead of New Jersey. They are one point behind the New York Islanders, who are third in the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins had scored just two goals in regulation and overtime in their previous three games, prompting Sullivan to reconfigure his top two lines against the Red Wings.
He put Phil Kessel with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz and dropped Patric Hornqvist onto the No. 2 unit with Cullen and Carl Hagelin. The Penguins rewarded him by generating six goals for the third time in the past eight games.
Hornqvist said the players learned of the changes at a meeting about 90 minutes before the game, and they certainly responded well.
Kessel recorded his fourth two-goal game this season, while Hornqvist assisted on both of the Penguins’ first-period goals. Kessel’s performance had to be particularly encouraging for Sullivan, because he has not been the game-breaker the Penguins were seeking when they acquired him from Toronto last summer.
If, however, Kessel can form a productive partnership with Crosby — they did not mesh well when playing together early in the season — the offense would gain a volatile dimension.
“If we keep playing together, it will take time to get used to each other and read off each other,” Kessel said. “Obviously, [Crosby] is going really good [lately].”
Crosby, who set up Kessel’s first goal, closed out the scoring with an empty-netter at 19:12 of the third period.
A couple of hours earlier, defenseman Ben Lovejoy had put the Penguins in front, 1-0, at 9:56 of the first, when his shot from the top of the right circle glanced off the stick of Detroit’s Darren Helm and sailed past goalie Petr Mrazek.
The Red Wings subsequently pulled even twice, but never managed to get a lead.
“We didn’t give them much,” Hornqvist said. “A little bit in the third, but on the bench, it felt like we controlled the game.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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