Letang lifts Penguins to win over Calgary
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CALGARY, Alberta -- As in Edmonton the day before, a pack of cameras followed Penguins captain Sidney Crosby every possible minute during the second stop of the team's three-leg tour of Western Canada, Crosby's first time as an NHL player in this part of his native country.
At the end of the night, though, the focus shifted to Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.
He, not Crosby, was the hero against the Calgary Flames, scoring in the fourth round of a shootout for a 3-2 victory at the Saddledome.
"Do you think you can beat that goaltender?" Coach Michael Therrien asked Letang before making the somewhat surprising move to send him out as the eighth shooter, the fourth Penguin to stare down Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff.
"Yeah," Letang answered the coach.
And then he backed it up when he deked and then beat Kiprusoff to break a 1-1 shootout deadlock that had stood since the Flames' Kristian Huselius and the Penguins' Petr Sykora scored in the first round.
The game -- the second game in two nights in which the Penguins won after trailing going into the third period -- had a sour note for the Penguins. Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury left just 4:39 into the game with an ankle injury. Therrien said the severity of the injury had not been determined. Fleury earned the Penguins' past four wins to improve to 9-8-1.
"You could see [he was hurt]. He kept playing, but he couldn't get up," said backup Dany Sabourin stopped two of 28 Calgary shots and made several strong saves in overtime.
Sabourin has been at his best when he comes in cold, a valuable trait for a backup.
"[Calgary] had some great chances," Crosby said. "If it wasn't for the way he came in and played, we wouldn't have won."
Ryan Malone's shorthanded goal at 11:29 of the third period tied it, 2-2, helping to wipe out the two goals by Calgary captain Jarome Iginla.
"It's another character win," Therrien said.
The Penguins now have their third three-game win streak of season and improved to 3-3 in the second game on back-to-back nights. They climbed to 14-12-2, the first time they have been two games over .500 since they were 6-4-1 Oct. 30.
The Penguins started strong, winning battles for the puck, but the Flames scored first. Iginla, stationed at the right edge of the crease, tipped in a shot from the point by Alex Tanguay at 19:32 for a 1-0 Flames lead.
The Penguins tied it, 1-1, at 13:54 when Evgeni Malkin scored his 11th goal during a power play by lofting a shot from the right circle over Kiprusoff's glove on the near side. That extended Malkin's points streak to five games since he had a 15-game streak stopped.
Iginla made it 2-1 for Calgary with a power-play goal at 16:23. With Jordan Staal off on a tripping call, Iginla cruised down the net and swept a feed from Kristian Huselius past Sabourin.
Malone pulled the Penguins back into a tie, 2-2, at 11:29 of the third period with an unassisted shorthanded goal. He stripped the puck from Huselius, drove down the left side on a breakaway and whipped a wrist shot past Kiprusoff.
In the shootout, after Huselius slid a puck under Sabourin, Iginla missed the net and Sabourin stopped Alex Tanguay and Matthew Lombardi. Kiprusoff made a glove save on Crosby and Malkin hit the right post.
The Penguins scratched forwards Erik Christensen and Jarkko Ruutu -- two of their best shootout snipers -- and went with seven defensemen for the second night in a row.
That was OK. Letang was a capable fill-in.
"The kid has got no fear," Therrien said. "We practice the shootout every week, and I like his skill."
Letang said he was surprised to be picked that early in the shootout process, but he knew exactly what he would do.
"We practice [shootouts] a lot," he said. "That was the move I was the most comfortable with. I look at the goalie, then make a move."
The Penguins were pretty comfortable with it, too.
That includes Crosby, who was held off the scoresheet a night after getting three third-period assists to help the Penguins win in Edmonton, 4-2.
"For him to get a chance like that in a big game like this, it's huge," Crosby said of Letang. "We're all really happy for him."
The Western portion of the four-game road trip concludes tomorrow night in Vancouver.
First Published December 7, 2007 12:38 am