PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Among all of Brent Johnson’s 24 saves Tuesday night in a 4-2 Penguins win at Minnesota, one stood out from the rest.
With Matt Cullen driving to the net, Johnson sprawled to his right and stuck out his paddle, preventing Cullen from netting a goal to tie the game at 2-2. Just 22 seconds later, Penguins forward James Neal forced a turnover at the Wild blue line and swung down the left wing, firing a shot through the five-hole on Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom for a 3-1 Penguins lead.
It was Neal’s sixth goal on the season and a major turning point in the game.
“We’ve been fantastic all year,” Johnson told the Associated Press. “It’s a simple thing with communication between myself, the d-men and the forwards and trying to simplify everything as much as possible. Just high and hard around the boards and get it out as quick as we could and make them go 200 feet.”
Johnson’s strong play continued throughout the third period. With 11:35 remaining, Matt Niskanen landed on Johnson’s right leg while backtracking to defend. His leg got pinned between Niskanen and the right post, and play had to be stopped as he laid in the crease in obvious pain, grabbing at his right knee.
After a short visit from the trainer, Johnson brushed off the injury and made a slew of sprawling saves in the next 1:30 to help the Penguins hold on to their 3-1 lead.
“You gotta do your best to shake off whatever you have and keep going,” Johnson said.
Three other Penguins suffered injuries Wednesday night. Defenseman Brian Strait, who was called up to play in place of suspended Kris Letang, hurt his arm in the second period and did not return. Forward Joe Vitale was high-sticked and defenseman Deryk Engelland took a puck to the face — both in the second period and both were forced to leave and returned for the third period.
“Ever since I got here through last year, it’s just the way the team runs,” Neal said. “Everyone knows what they have to do. Every guy does his job out there.”
With 7:39 left in the game Pascal Dupuis earned a breakaway on the penalty kill after Matt Cooke forced a turnover at the Penguins’ blue line. Dupuis dangled the puck on his backhand and eventually roofed it past Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom for a 4-1 lead.
“He made a really good play,” Dupuis said of Cooke. “He won the puck battle there at the blue line and I was skating towards the blue line. The puck ended up on my blade. I had a breakaway from the red line in. Luckily I put it in.”
Guillaume Latendresse closed the gap to 4-2 at 13:12 of the third period, but that’s all the Wild could muster the rest of the way against Johnson.
“It was a huge game for us to bounce back in,” Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said. “I think tonight was a complete team effort. Everybody played well starting with (Johnson). We were real happy with the game.”