Penguins Notebook: Vitale's winner garners a lot of rare attention
Joe Vitale handles the puck against Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien in a game against the Jets last month.
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Joe Vitale got some star treatment, something to which he's not accustomed.
The Penguins fourth-line center was awarded the hardhat that is the team's equivalent of a game ball. He did a national TV interview. He entertained a thicket of reporters.
All for scoring what held up as the deciding goal as the Penguins beat the Boston Bruins, 2-1, Sunday at Consol Energy Center for their ninth win in a row.
For Vitale, scoring any goal is a special event.
"It's something I don't pride myself on every night or else I don't think I'd have a job here," he said with a grin.
It was Vitale's first goal in 38 games, dating to Feb. 26, 2012, and just his sixth in 102 NHL games.
Vitale found himself with a prime rebound after linemate Craig Adams' long-range shot. Vitale lifted the puck past Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask to make it 2-1 with 31.8 seconds left in the first period.
So, Vitale picked his spot on the shot?
"Oh, God, no," he said. "I'm just trying to put it on the net. I knew [Rask] was sliding across. I knew I had to put it somewhere upstairs, but I really wasn't going for [any particular] spot."
The play started when Vitale, streaking through the neutral zone, took an outlet pass from defenseman Brooks Orpik. He bumped the puck over to Adams, who took a shot from the right point.
"I think it might have hit the defenseman, so Rask was a little taken aback by it," said Vitale, who raced to the net and got rewarded with a rebound.
"It was fluttering a little bit, but you don't see many of those in the game -- I don't see many of those in the game," Vitale said.
"[Our line has] an identity, and scoring goals isn't part of it, but it's nice to contribute."
Vitale, 27 and in his second NHL season, has been a healthy scratch four times this season and two assists were his only points before Sunday. He got his coach's attention with the goal.
"Joe has a ton of speed and used it there, made a great play," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was a great play and a big goal for our team. It was a big lift for our team going into the end of the period."
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin skated Sunday morning but did not play. He has what is believed to be a shoulder injury and is within the window of a week to two weeks that the Penguins estimated he would miss.
Malkin missed his fifth game in a row.
The teams each lost a player to injury in the game.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang did not play in the second or third period. He apparently aggravated a leg problem. Bylsma said Letang will be further evaluated.
Boston second-leading scorer David Krejci left at 14:46 of the third period after being hit on the right knee by teammate Johnny Boychuk's shot. He was assisted off the ice. The Bruins had no update but said Krejci will travel with the team to Winnipeg, where they play Tuesday.
More than halfway through the second period, Boston center Patrice Bergeron was penalized for touching the puck with his hand on a faceoff, an innocuous enough infraction.
Before that Penguins power play started, however, players from both teams were milling around and some tempers flared. Bruins winger Milan Lucic, gloves on, punched Penguins winger James Neal in the face.
"I don't know what was going through his head," Neal said. "Quick punch and that was about it ... a bit odd."
Neal didn't retaliate -- "We were going on the power play," he said -- and insisted nothing precipitated the punch.
"That was the only time I ran into him," Neal said.
Lucic was not penalized.
In addition to his assist on Vitale's goal, Orpik led the game with six blocked shots and seven hits. ... The crowd of 18,659 was the Penguins' 268th sellout in a row and set a Consol Energy Center record for a hockey crowd by one. ... The Penguins are 6-1 in day games. ... The Penguins healthy scratches were rookie defensemen Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo.
First Published March 18, 2013 12:00 am