Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs Recap

Things are going good right now for the Pittsburgh Penguins. If you had any doubt about luck being on their side, you were probably convinced last night. The Pens extended their winning streak into the other side of the All-Star break with their eighth in a row in the first of a home and home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pittsburgh had no business winning this game. The Maple Leafs dominated and threw the Pens' style of play right back in their face. However, thanks to a favorable call by the referees early and some lucky breaks lately, the Pens get to continue their climb up the standings.

Though the first period ended scoreless between these two clubs, there was one player who looked poised to light the lamp eventually. That player was Mikhail Grabovski. He was all over the ice in the first two periods of the game. He did finally put a puck in the back of the net in the second period when he received a pass from Dion Phaneuf who was located behind the net and put it past Marc-Andre Fleury. He also scored again just over three minutes later to put the Leafs up by two.

Fleury played about as well as a goalie possibly could for one that gave up four goals in a game. He even left with the game's number one star. For the first time in the Pens winning streak, they were outshot by their opponent. Fleury was peppered with 39 shots and made more than a handful of spectacular saves. It is by no means an exaggeration that Toronto could have scored six or seven goals in the first period alone.

Even after Matt Cooke scored on a deflection before the end of the second period to pull the Pens within one, the Leafs were still in control. Tyler Bozak, who had a goal wrongfully disallowed in the first period, scored on a power play. Clarke MacArthur scored just 19 seconds later to put Toronto up 4-1 with only 13 minutes left in regulation.

It took the Penguins 47 minutes to finally realize that they were playing a hockey game but when they did, they came on strong. It started when Steve Sullivan separated Jake Gardiner from the puck at Toronto's blue line. Gardiner fell to the ice and in an attempt to bat the puck away from Sullivan, it went right to his tape and he took it down the right side a fired a rocket of a shot past Jonas Gustavsson. Joe Vitale added to the rush of secondary scoring that the Pens desperately needed with five minutes left to play with a goal of his own.

As valiant of an effort as the Penguins showed in the final moments of regulation, it still looked as if they would come up short on extending their streak. However, with an extra attacker on the ice and just seven seconds left on the clock, James Neal fired a shot from the right circle that hit a cutting Evgeni Malkin right in the assistant captain's patch and deflected past Gustavsson to send the game to overtime.

Getting a point out of this disaster of a performance was a win in and of itself. The extra point was a bonus and the Penguins got it. After a scoreless five minute overtime period, Malkin was the only player on either team to net a goal in the shootout to put the team's eighth win in a row on the books.

The successful shootout attempt for Malkin was his fifth conversion in a row. This for a man who was dreadful at shootouts before this year. He is the best player in the world right now and refuses to let his team lose. Fleury is a goalie who is playing at a level where it would be hard to find someone better than he is. At some point, these two guys will cool down but until they do, let the winning continue.

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