Penguins gain point on Flyers with 2-1 shootout win
Penguins forwards Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Alexei Kovalev and Pascal Dupuis celebrate Kunitz's shootout goal following Thursday's game against the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
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PHILADELPHIA -- OK, so maybe this wasn't exactly how the Penguins would have scripted this game.
Wasn't all that far from it, though.
Just as they aren't all that far behind Philadelphia in the wake of their 2-1 shootout victory against the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center, either.
The Penguins would have preferred to prevent the Flyers from earning a point, but winning the game, no matter when it happened, was their primary concern, because it means the race for first place in the Atlantic Division isn't over.
Game: New Jersey Devils at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio, Internet: FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9), www.penguins.nhl.com.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Brodeur for Devils.
Penguins: Are 2-1-1 against Devils, including 2-1 victory Dec. 6 at Consol Energy Center. ... D Paul Martin does not have goal in 35 home games. ...Are 11-3-2 in second game when playing on consecutive nights.
Devils: Have won 12 of past 17 road games. ... LW Ilya Kovalchuk has scored four overtime goals in 2010-11, tying NHL's single-season record. ... Are averaging league-low 2.08 goals per game.
Of note: Seventeen of Devils' past 23 games have been decided by one goal.
The Flyers remain a heavy favorite to claim the championship, of course -- hey, they have a game in hand to go with their four-point cushion -- but the Penguins at least preserved the possibility of making a run at the top spot during the final two-plus weeks of the regular season.
Especially if they're able to defeat the Flyers in a rematch Tuesday at Consol Energy. And do it in regulation, of course.
"They got a point tonight, but we made [up] some ground, and we still have some games to win," coach Dan Bylsma. "And we get them one more time in our building."
Chris Kunitz preserved the possibility that that game will be critical by beating Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in the fourth round of the shootout. Alex Kovalev had scored in the second round, while Bobrovsky stopped Kris Letang and James Neal.
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Penguins stopped Ville Leino, Claude Giroux and Mike Richards in the shootout and was beaten by Daniel Briere.
The victory, important as it was, might have come at a heavy cost because the Penguins lost center Dustin Jeffrey late in the second period after Jeff Carter of the Flyers fell on him. Jeffrey appeared to hurt his right leg or ankle, although Bylsma said he had no word on the nature of severity of the injury.
Jeffrey had been playing between Alex Kovalev and James Neal on the top line, but the Penguins have had enough experience at losing guys who fill prominent roles that they took his departure almost in stride.
"It's not something we've been fazed by before," Bylsma said. "Our guys keep playing. They keep the standard up, they keep going, no matter what happens."
The standard was pretty high for most of Thursday night, as the Penguins had an edge in just about every significant facet of the game.
They limited the number of scoring chances the Flyers generated -- "Pittsburgh played a really good game defensively," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. "They forced lots of turnovers"-- and their 31-20 edge in shots was a pretty accurate reflection of how the game played out.
"We did a lot of good things," center Jordan Staal said.
Nonetheless, the Flyers took a 1-0 lead on a quirky goal by Richards at 15:18 of the opening period, after he got a pass from James van Riemsdyk. Richards was in front of the net when the puck hit his skate and popped into the air, at which point he got the shaft of his stick on it, sending it fluttering over Fleury and into the net.
"It hit their guy, bounced high and then I just lost it," Fleury said. "A perfect lob over my shoulder."
That was the only puck that eluded Fleury until the shootout, but there were serious doubts for a while about whether the Penguins would be able to beat Bobrovsky.
He denied Tyler Kennedy on a breakaway a little more than three minutes into the game and was borderline unbeatable for much of the evening. If he hadn't been, the outcome would have been settled long before the end of regulation.
"He played really well," Letang said. "He looked like he was in place every shot and seeing every puck."
He didn't see enough of a Kennedy shot on a power play early in the second, however, to stop it.
Kennedy got a feed from Kunitz and beat Bobrovsky from inside the right dot for his 18th of the season 61 seconds into the period, a goal that proved to be the final one for either side in regulation or overtime.
But, even though the Penguins never had a lead on the scoreboard until the shootout, there wasn't much doubt about which was the better team for most of the game. Like when the Flyers went about 13 minutes without a shot in the final period.
"We didn't play good the whole game, not just the third period," Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros said. "The first two [periods], they outskated us, outbattled us, they outshot us. They did everything better than us in our building, so that was embarrassing."
First Published March 25, 2011 12:00 am