By: Casey Shea

Whatever it takes.

That’s the mantra right now with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Arron Asham and Mark Letestu last night against the New York Islanders.

Playing without the dynamic duo for the fifth straight game, the Penguins continued to rely on strong defense and penalty killing to wear down the opposition.

If someone told you the Pens would be 4-1 in those five games without Crosby and Malkin, would you have believed them?

Brent Johnson was clearly ready to do whatever it took to win last night. He came up with 20 saves, highlighted by a ridiculous glove save late in the third period to preserve a 2-0 lead.

Later, with the Pens up 3-0 and time ticking down, Islanders’ goaltender Rick DiPietro decided to take a cheap shot on Matt Cooke. As Cooke is chasing down a dump in, DiPietro steps out of his crease and drills Cooke on the way by. Of course, a melee ensues in the corner and all four officials are trying to break it up.

DiPietro looks down the ice and Johnson is already at his own blue line. Apparently, that was enough for the two to agree to tango. Johnson made it within 10 feet of DiPietro before an official noticed him. In all honesty, the ref probably wouldn’t have noticed if the crowd didn’t go into a frenzy when Johnson crossed the red line. The ref tried to stop it and ordered Johnson back to his crease, but it was too late.

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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Johnson dropped his blocker and engaged.

By this time, what was left of the crowd inside the CONSOL Energy Center was on its feet and cheering as loud as ever. The roar only intensified when Johnson dropped DiPietro like a bad habit with a wicked left hook.

One punch was all it took and Ricky was seeing stars.

I’ve been at games before when there’s been line brawls, but never had I witnessed a goalie fight until last night. Words don’t even describe it, which brings me to my next point.

With 3:30 left in the game and the Pens only up 2-0, many fans started heading toward the exits. My only question is, WHY?!

Aside from the fact that two-goal leads can easily be erased in that amount of time, why would you spend the money to only watch 56:30 of the game. You paid for 60 minutes and if it goes to overtime, you’re essentially getting free hockey.

I’m glad the rarest event in hockey happened last night. Someone should do the math on what your chances of witnessing a goalie fight are. I’d be willing to bet that it’s up there with hitting the lottery.

Even with a quarter of the fans in their cars, the crowd was as loud as it would be for a playoff game.  I can’t even fathom what that’s going to be like in the spring.

Also impressive, my wife was finally able to snap her losing streak at Penguins’ home games. I’d debated not bringing her to a game ever again after last season. All-time she’s 2-5 between the Igloo and CONSOL with wins over the Leafs and now the Islanders. The streak was up to four games, so you can see my dilemma.

As the game ended, she turned to me and yelled, “The curse is over!” And yes, that’s entirely true.

Anyway, Pittsburgh’s offensive firepower has without question taken a hit without Sid and Geno. However, more pucks are getting in the general vicinity of the cage, which is leading to more opportunities.

Tyler Kennedy scored the game’s opening goal at 8:08 of the first period on a rebound from the bottom of the right faceoff circle.  Paul Martin put the puck on net from the point, DiPietro left a bad rebound and Kennedy made him pay. The goal would only mark the beginning of DiPietro’s bad night.

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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Minutes later, Chris Kunitz gained the Isles’ zone with speed on a 2-on-1 with Pascal Dupuis. Apparently, DiPietro was banking on Kunitz shoveling a pass across to Dupuis for a tap-in and was clearly cheating off the post.

Rather than force the pass, Kunitz fired a backhander toward the net, that caught DiPietro by surprise and put the Pens up 2-0. From a goaltender’s perspective, there’s no way that puck should have been in the net. On a 2-on-1 like that, the defenseman’s job is to prevent the pass from getting through, while the goaltender takes the puck carrier. Ricky cheated and was burned for it.

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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Again, the goals came from just getting pucks and bodies to the net. If you take a goaltender’s eyes away from him, you don’t need to have a skill-set like Crosby and Malkin to light the lamp. Sure it helps, but when you boil it down, all these guys (with maybe the exception of Eric Godard) got to this level because they are skilled players. Sorry big fella, I completely respect what you do on the ice because you don’t get nearly the credit you deserve, but if I’m looking for offense I’m betting on the rest of the roster.

Anyway, if you give them an inch to bury the puck, they’re going to hit it. Obviously, Crosby and Malkin will hit that small opening more than someone like Kennedy or Pascal Dupuis. But, by taking the goaltender out of the equation by crashing the net, the percentages for the secondary goal-scorers go up.

Despite the scoreboard reading 3-0 at the end of the night, this easily could have been a laugher.

Max Talbot rang a puck off both posts in the second period, followed by Kunitz ripping a one-timer off the crossbar on another 2-on-1. Had either of those gone in, I would have been the guy leading the “Ricky!” taunting chant in Section 120.

I don’t think there’s been anyone more deserving of a goal in recent history than Talbot. Snake-bitten isn’t even the word for what he was going through.

Over the last five games alone, he’s had countless chances catch iron or be denied by amazing saves. So, when the Isles vacated their net, everyone on the ice for Pittsburgh began looking for Talbot.

Finally, he got an opportunity from the red line and buried it. I’ve never seen a guy rip a shot into an ope net from that distance with as much authority as Talbot.

You could see the relief on his face as he sat on the bench. The whole team mobbed him and I’m sure some were joking about how empty netters don’t really count. In this case, they count Max. Not as much as those two you potted in Game 7, but it counts nonetheless.

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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

I don’t know if they showed this or not on the television broadcast. Right after the goal, Dan Bylsma was on the jumbotron and even he had a big grin on his face. That tells me that he knows how hard Talbot has been working and that the empty net goal was well-earned.

Not to mention, the goal gave him 100 points in his career. So, I’d just like to say congrats Max! Keep up the good work.

All in all it was a great performance by the Pens, who improved to 2-0 since the All-Star break.

One last thing. With Philadelphia off last night, Pittsburgh is now only one point behind the Flyers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. If that doesn’t put the league on notice I don’t know what will.

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