Recchi's 3 goals anchor 8-2 win
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It has been three years since the NHL held an All-Star Game, so some Penguins players -- and fans -- might find the four-day break that begins today a bit disconcerting.
But probably not as much as what will follow it.
Meaningful games in February. Probably March. And maybe, just maybe, in April, too.
The Penguins' 8-2 victory against Toronto at Mellon Arena last night not only raised their record to 21-17-8, but lifted them into a three-way tie with the New York Rangers and Toronto for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They have two games in hand on New York, three on the Maple Leafs.
Not reason enough for the front office to put in a rush order to have playoff tickets printed, perhaps, but this is the first time since 2001 the Penguins will compete for something more than their spot in the NHL draft lottery in the final months of the season.
"We wanted to get [to eighth place] before the break, and we got to our goal," said right winger Mark Recchi, who recorded his seventh career hat trick.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists to run his league-leading points total to 72. He set up the second and third goals of Recchi's natural hat trick, which consisted entirely of scores that came while the Maple Leafs were short-handed.
The Penguins finished 5 for 10 with the extra man -- "The power play was really good," coach Michel Therrien said -- while Toronto's power play went 2 for 8.
"With the five power-play goals, [the penalty-killers] might get overlooked," Crosby said. "But they did a good job."
So did Evgeni Malkin, who had a personal-best five assists -- one shy of the franchise record -- and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who added three. And most of their teammates, for that matter.
While the impact of Recchi's hat trick was obvious, the Penguins' most important goal might have come from a far less likely source: Fourth-line winger Jarkko Ruutu.
He hadn't scored since the regular-season opener Oct. 5, but put the Penguins in front to stay when he broke a 1-1 tie by converting a penalty shot at 8:26 of the opening period.
Ruutu moved down the slot, then pulled the puck onto his backhand and, despite losing full control of it, flipped a low shot past Maple Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft.
"I fumbled the puck a bit and got lucky," Ruutu said.
Whether that will be enough to tempt Therrien to get him into the rotation the next time the Penguins end up in a shootout isn't clear. Modest as his career stats -- 25 goals in 312 games -- are, Ruutu is 2 for 3 in penalty shots since entering the NHL and 2 for 4 in shootouts.
"He's closer than he was," Therrien said, laughing.
Jeff O'Neill had staked Toronto to a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 3:19, but Jordan Staal pulled the Penguins even 91 seconds later when he steered a Malkin feed behind Raycroft for his 15th goal.
That triggered a run of seven unanswered goals by the Penguins, who matched their largest margin of victory this season. After Ruutu put the Penguins in front, Recchi pushed their lead to 3-1 with a power-play goal at 17:28, when a Ryan Whitney feed glanced off his left skate and into the net.
Marc-Andre Fleury preserved the Penguins' lead 53 seconds into the middle period with one of the most unusual saves as he flopped backward and O'Neill's shot from inside the left circle hit him in the back and dropped into the crease.
Recchi struck again on a power play at 11:08, taking a cross-ice feed from Crosby and scoring from inside the left hash, and put the Penguins up by four on a two-man advantage at 14:25.
Leafs coach Paul Maurice replaced Raycroft, who stopped 16 of 21 shots, with ex-Penguin Jean-Sebastien Aubin after the second intermission, and Aubin was greeted by another five-on-three score at 4:02.
Crosby got credit for the goal, his 24th, when his pass to Staal in front of the net glanced off the stick of Toronto defenseman Pavel Kubina and into the net. Michel Ouellet made it 7-1 with the Penguins' fifth man-advantage goal -- a season-high -- at 11:08 before Toronto's Brendan Bell scored when his shot deflected off Whitney's skate and past Fleury at 13:44, but Ryan Malone put the Penguins back up by six 52 seconds later by converting a Malkin feed.
So the Penguins hit the break on a 3-0-1 roll.
"Our goal was to make the playoffs," Fleury said. "And I think we're in a good position."
Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Mark Recchi celebrates his first goal of the night last night at Mellon Arena. Recchi went on to post a hat trick in the Penguins' 8-2 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published January 21, 2007 12:00 am