Penguins, Conklin keep streaks alive
Sidney Crosby is mobbed after giving the Penguins a 2-0 lead in the second period last night against Florida.
Penguins goalie Ty Conklin makes a save in the second period against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. yesterday.
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SUNRISE, Fla. -- It could be that the save didn't affect anything except the Penguins' margin of victory.
That they still would have run off three unanswered goals even if goalie Ty Conklin hadn't stopped a shorthanded breakaway by Florida's Gregory Campbell in the middle of the second period of a scoreless game.
Yeah, it definitely could have played out that way.
But probably not.
Fact is, if Conklin doesn't deny Campbell, the Panthers likely don't collapse like a wet tissue over the next few minutes in what became a 3-1 loss to the Penguins at the BankAtlantic Center last night.
In that case, perhaps the Penguins wouldn't have finished the evening with a season-best winning streak of seven games and a 24-16-2 record while remaining one point behind first-place New Jersey in the Atlantic Division.
And maybe Conklin wouldn't have kept his record unblemished -- 8-0 -- since being recalled from the Penguins' minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre last month. And his shutout streak certainly wouldn't have reached 122 minutes, 58 seconds, as it did before he allowed a goal with less than five minutes to play.
All because Campbell couldn't get that puck past him.
Conklin acknowledged that the sequence was "a turning point," but downplayed his role in it, suggesting that Campbell didn't "get the shot he wanted. It seemed like he fanned on it, almost like his stick broke on him."
Regardless of what prevented Campbell from scoring, Conklin's teammates appreciated the impact of that save.
"It could have been a huge momentum shift [in Florida's favor]," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "And he stopped it. He played great again."
The game was uneventful enough early, although Florida got an unexpected scoring opportunity with 31/2 minutes left in the opening period, when a errant pass by Panthers defenseman Ruslan Salei slid toward the left of the Penguins' net.
Conklin came out of the crease to corral it but inadvertently deflected the puck toward his unguarded net. Conklin calmly chased it down, however, and pulled it out of danger.
"I don't know if it would have gone in or not," he said. "But it was close enough where it wasn't comfortable."
The Panthers appeared to take a 1-0 lead at 8:23 of the second, but the goal was waved off --instantly and vigorously -- because Florida center Stephen Weiss kicked the puck into the net with his right skate.
Less than two minutes later, Conklin triggered the pivotal series of events by denying Campbell on his shorthanded breakaway at 9:45.
Play turned back up ice and, before it stopped, Sidney Crosby, who was stationed near the right post, had slid a pass through the crease to Petr Sykora, who rapped it by Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun at 10:05 for his 13th goal of the season.
"That's how things work," Crosby said. "When you're winning games, you're getting those big plays."
Sykora's goal seemed to deflate the Panthers, and Crosby knocked some more air out of them with a spectacular individual effort at 11:21.
He rushed the puck through the neutral zone and burst between Florida defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan Allen before beating Vokoun with a shot low to the stick side at 11:21 for his 18th.
"I just thought I had space," Crosby said.
"It doesn't always work. Sometimes, the [defensemen] close and hit you or get a stick on you, but sometimes you have to try to hit that opening."
If Crosby's goal wasn't a mortal wound -- and it certainly appeared that it was -- Georges Laraque inflicted one at 13:11, when he punched in a Jeff Taffe rebound from the crease for his third.
Laraque's goal prompted Panthers coach Jacques Martin to replace Vokoun with backup Craig Anderson, presumably because replacing his 18 skaters wasn't an option.
Campbell got a sliver of revenge at 15:11 of the third period, when he beat Conklin from the slot -- shorthanded, no less -- to deny his bid to lead the Penguins to back-to-back shutouts for the second time in franchise history.
"The streak continues," Conklin said, smiling.
So does another one that's far more important. Thanks again, in large part, to Ty Conklin.
First Published January 9, 2008 12:16 am