Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Penguins Game 50 Recap - Penguins 5, Leafs 4 (SO)

Some nights you come out and play like your hair is on fire. Some nights you come out and play like you just woke up 30 minutes before game time. For 50 minutes the Penguins played like the latter and were dominated by the visiting Leafs. Too bad for the Leafs that the Penguins played the last 10 minutes like their lives were on the line.

The Penguins were dominated for the better part of 50 minutes. It really wasn’t pretty. The Leafs were getting odd man breaks almost every other rush down the ice and the Penguins defense was nowhere to be found and when they were around they were throwing the puck away creating the odd man breaks.

With the Penguins trailing 2-1 the Leafs pretty much put the game away with a pair of goals 19 seconds apart to make it 4-1 with 13:33 left in the game. People were leaving the building and things were in a bad way. That all changed when Steve Sullivan picked up a puck and blasted a shot past Jonas Gustavsson to make it 4-2. OK, a little momentum for tomorrow night.

They did much better than that. After the Penguins go the one and only power play of the night (only the 12th penalty in the last 12 games for the Leafs) Joe Vitale worked his ass off in front of the net and beat Gustavsson to cut the lead to one with five minutes left in the game. Things stayed that way the rest of the third even though the Penguins were brining the heat but things didn’t look good. The Penguins never score with the goalie pulled.

With MAF out of the net and under a minute left the Penguins went to work. The puck only left the zone for a brief second but the Pens got the puck right back in. Steve Sullivan worked the puck from the point to James Neal on the right dot. Neal fired a one-time shot that was off the mark but hit Evgeni Malkin in the chest and deflected into the goal. Just an unreal ending. 6.6 seconds left and the game was tied. What a time to be alive.

Overtime was a mad house. Sullivan pretty much held the puck for the entire overtime period and the Penguins were all over the place. If overtime was 10 minutes instead of five the Pens would have won in OT. They went a shootout and MAF was brilliant, stopping all three shots. Malkin scored a shootout goal. Five straight times he’s scored in the shootout. Remember when he was bad at this stuff.

Honestly during the final five minutes of this game I didn’t move. When MAF left the net I had goose bumps and when the puck went into the back of the net I threw my hands up in the air and screamed. This was what playoff hockey is about and it was only in game 50.

I gotta give the Leafs credit, they are a fun team to watch. They have some guys that can really move and get the puck and they really pack the defensive end when they get everyone back. Goaltending seems to be the real down on the team, especially tonight, as Gustavsson really melted down the stretch tonight but it really wasn’t all on him. The Leafs were floundering the final 10 minutes of the game and it cost them.

It is not too often that a goaltender can give up four goals and still probably deserve to be the number one star but that is exactly what Fleury did tonight. He made 35 saves but honestly if he wasn’t in net this would have probably been an eight goal night for the Leafs. I talked about how the Leafs were getting odd man breaks like every other rush and MAF was there to stop nearly every single one of them. It was great to watch. Not sure there are many better goaltenders in the league right now. Just a brick wall.

While MAF was great the defense was not. The pairing of Niskanen and Engelland were pretty bad all night and the pairing of Martin and Michalek were pretty bad as well. As you know I am a pretty big Martin supporter but he was pretty terrible tonight. Out of position and just didn’t look good. Granted, this was the first game off a lengthy break so there must be some time to shake the rust off but that should be only attributed to tonight. They must be better tomorrow.

You can’t say enough about how good Steve Sullivan was tonight. Sullivan has been a little frustrating this year when he passes the puck one too many times and passes up some great looks at the net but he might have played his best of the season tonight. He showed up for the full 60 minutes and completely took over the final 10 minutes of the game and the entire overtime session. Just a really great effort form him and the team fed off that.

Tyler Kennedy needs to show up. No idea where he has been.

Just a really gutty effort by the team. They were down and out and they were not showing and signs of coming back. To be honest I was relegated to the loss when they scored those back-to-back goals. Games like this are bound to happen to teams every once in a while. What is really amazing about this is when your team has a “game like that” and still wins it you know you have something special going on. Eight wins in a row and they are still looking strong.

Penguins will be back at it tomorrow night against the Leafs.

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