The Pittsburgh Penguins’ winning streak was in serious jeopardy for about 50 minutes of play last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pens fans will refer to what happened over the final 12 minutes of the third period as a comeback. Maple Leafs fans will call what happened a number of derogatory things.
Can you blame them?
Imagine what you’d be saying right now if the Pens blew a three-goal lead like that. Instead of celebrating, people would be breaking their ankles jumping off the bandwagon.
Regardless of what you call it, the Penguins – specifically Marc-Andre Fleury – stole two points last night.
Trailing 4-1 in the third, the Penguins rallied and pulled off a 5-4 win in a shootout.
I can’t remember the last time I saw so many opposing players behind the Penguins’ defense either on breakaways or odd-man rushes.
Paul Martin has been the subject of plenty of criticism at times this season, but he deserved every bit of it last night.
The dangers of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have been well documented this season. However, Mikhail Grabovski played out of his mind last night.
He scored the first two goals of the game for Toronto and his second one was a thing of beauty. A laser to the far corner came out of the net almost as fast as it went in.
There was nothing Fleury could do about that goal, or the other three that got by him last night. Sure, he gave up four goals and I’m sure there will be some people out there who say he should have played better.
In my opinion, anyone calling out Fleury for anything that went wrong in the first 50-ish minutes of play should get their head checked.
Fleury was spectacular last night. When was the last time a goaltender allowed four goals and was still named the game’s No. 1 Star?
The comeback began innocently enough.
Steve Sullivan picked up a loose puck after a Leafs defenseman blew a tire at the Penguins’ blue line. Sullivan raced up ice on a 2-on-1 and had no intentions of passing.
You read that last part correctly.
Sullivan let a slap shot fly that Jonas Gustavsson could only wave at. Suddenly a 4-1 deficit was cut to 4-2 with about 11 minutes left in the game.
If we’ve learned nothing since the lockout, it’s that two-goal leads can be erased over that period of time.
Suddenly, the team woke up and started to put Toronto on their heels and even earned a power play with 7:27 to play.
The Penguins failed to score, but generated a ton of momentum and were even bailed out by Fleury on another sparkling chance for Toronto.
Right after the power play, the puck found its way to Gustavsson’s crease. He pawed at it with the glove, but Joe Vitale swooped in and tucked a rebound behind him to pull the Penguins within one.
The fans who didn’t flock to the exits after the Leafs scored two quick goals to go up 4-1 came alive.
“Let’s go Pens!” chants rocked the CONSOL Energy Center as the fans attempted to will their team to tie the game.
I don’t remember breathing much in the final five minutes. I was playoff tense.
I even found myself looking to the heavens when Tyler Kennedy was stopped from a bad angle, where he had no chance to score.
I wasn’t upset he took the shot. I was upset the puck didn’t somehow find its way through Gustavsson’s equipment and enter the net.
In a normal game, that shot gets no reaction. But, with the potential for a crazy comeback you start rooting for anything and everything to go in.
Gustavsson made another couple of saves down the stretch until the Pens pulled Fleury for the extra attacker with a minute to play.
You could just tell the Leafs were in “Shell Mode” trying to not let it slip away.
Then the inevitable happened, but in a way not even Larry Bird or Michael Jordan could have dreamed up in their competition for a Big Mac.
James Neal ripped a desperation slap shot into a crowd in front of the net with time winding down.
He nearly took off Evgeni Malkin’s head with the shot, but it bounced off his upper body and into the net with 6.6 seconds to play.
Gustavsson immediately appealed to the referee, who called the war room in Toronto to confirm the goal.
The game would eventually be decided in a shootout where Fleury stopped all three Toronto shooters while Malkin scored the lone goal to quite literally steal two points.
If you thought the stunned faces of the Leafs’ players and fans were amusing, I would have paid money to see the stunned faces of the people who left early when they found out what happened.
Maybe that will teach them to stick around next time. Maybe that will teach anyone watching, who plans on attending a game in the future, to stick around until the clock strikes zero.
I don’t care if the score is 10-1. I don’t leave games. You NEVER know what could happen.
The Penguins won’t have much time to celebrate this win as they will be in Toronto tonight for the back end of a home-and-home series.
The winning streak stands at eight games, but we all know nine is better than eight.
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