Loud crowd doesn't stop Penguins win
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- The zealous fans at MTS Centre like to pick out a whipping boy on the opposing team. It doesn't have to involve a grudge. A couple of stars will do.
It was clear from early on Friday night in the Penguins' 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets that goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and center Evgeni Malkin were the chosen ones.
The crowd had a "Fluuuury" jeer going even before the first faceoff, and Malkin was booed when he touched the puck.
It didn't work.
Fleury withstood a strong start by the Jets to earn his 18th win, and Malkin had an assist to extend his points streak to seven games.
Those two had a lot of help as the Penguins broke open a tie game with three goals early in the third period.
The Penguins got goals from four players to send them into the two-day Christmas break with a three-game winning streak -- their longest since they won five games in a row Oct. 17-27.
The Penguins are still dealing with several injuries but got one player back for the game. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek returned -- on his 29th birthday -- after missing 10 games because of a concussion he got in a Nov. 26 game at Montreal.
The Penguins had recalled rookie defenseman Brian Strait from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League because defenseman Deryk Engelland was serving the first game of a three-game suspension, but Strait turned out to be just insurance.
Still out for the Penguins are forwards Sidney Crosby (concussion), Richard Park (broken foot) and Dustin Jeffrey (knee surgery), and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (concussion).
The Penguins had the advantage of having a night off in Winnipeg Thursday, while the Jets played host to Montreal -- a rare set of home games on consecutive nights. That allowed some of the Penguins staff, including coach Dan Bylsma, to attend. He saw Winnipeg have a strong start and hammer the Canadiens, 4-0.
"I thought they played real well," Bylsma said of the Jets. "I thought they did a great job of attacking Montreal, coming in waves."
Bylsma said that made him hope his club had the hot start in this game.
In fact, both teams came out flying. It was the Penguins who benefited first.
Center Joe Vitale's bread and butter never is going to be scoring, but he broke a 21-game drought dating to Oct. 20 when he got the first goal of the game.
Alexandre Picard's shot from the right half-wall hit at least one player in front of Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec before it drifted to Vitale near the right post. Vitale slid it into an empty net behind Pavelec to make it 1-0 at 13:59 of the first period.
The Penguins outshot the Jets, 14-5, in the first period, but Winnipeg had many more chances than shots. Perhaps the best was a shorthanded breakaway by Jim Slater with eight seconds left in a Penguins power play. His shot clanked off the crossbar behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury was busy, sliding, flopping and dancing in the crease. His best save of the first period came at 11:05. Fleury's stick had gotten wrested from his hands and lay 10 feet from the net when Nik Antropov moved into the slot and blasted a shot. Fleury made a windmill glove save.
Earlier, the fans seemed to love the center-ice fight between Penguins winger Arron Asham and Winnipeg's Tanner Glass. Asham is a native of Manitoba.
The Penguins got a scare at 3:32 of the first period when winger Matt Cooke left the game briefly. He lined up Antropov along the boards in the Jets end but was met with Antropov's stick. Antropov got a high-sticking penalty.
Winnipeg tied it, 1-1, at 9:11 of the second period. From the bottom of the left circle, Alexander Burmistrov one-timed a pass through the slot by Blake Wheeler.
The Penguins took the lead back, 2-1, on the first shift of the third period. James Neal scored his 20th goal as the top line worked its magic.
Chris Kunitz started things with a long shot. The rebound ended up on the left side of the zone. Malkin dove to pass the puck to Neal, who scored from the slot at 0:22.
Neal, like Malkin, has a seven-game points streak.
Then things opened up, as the Penguins scored twice in 40 seconds.
Jordan Staal converted a feed from Kunitz during a power play and picked the top right corner of the net to make it 3-1 at 4:14. Steve Sullivan got an assist, his 700th NHL point.
Pascal Dupuis then made it 4-1 at 4:54. He drove the right side with only Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien back and scored from the right circle.
First Published December 23, 2011 12:00 am