For the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sunday’s game defined disappointment.
What began as a grim struggle for the team ended as a battle on an even field; they and the Chicago Blackhawks fought hard to come out on top of a close contest. Chicago, however, prevailed 3-2 in a shootout, a sad ending to what could have been a fairy tale comeback.
The Pens were outskated and outplayed throughout the first. They struggled to keep up with the Blackhawks and were unable to generate any real offense. Time spent in the Hawks’ zone was minimal; puck possession and control were poor.
The Pens were clearly not in control.
Chicago forward Patrick Sharp took advantage of the scrambling Penguins and put one past netminder Marc-Andre Fleury at 10:07 into the period. Fleury, however, was the saving grace of those 20 minutes. He faced 13 shots from Chicago, as opposed to the seven the Pens fired on Chicago netminder Corey Crawford.
At 17:09, Sharp was sent to the box for four minutes after a high stick drew blood from defenseman Brooks Orpik. The power play, however, was slow and uneasy. The PP units looked uncomfortable and could not match Chicago’s aggression and pace. The penalty carried over for about a minute into the second and was killed.
The Blackhawks were (again) dictating the pace of the game. While the Pens’ defense looked tighter, the offense still faltered.
“Tonight you saw us not match the compete level and the speed of the game the Blackhawks had in the first half of the game. We need to get to our speed and our game right away,” Pens’ Head Coach Dan Bylsma said to the media.
That is, until forward Matt Cooke – fresh from a four-game suspension – got the puck from Maxime Talbot and scored a shorthanded goal. (Orpik got the secondary assist)
A whole new game began.
“Up until that point, the game was in Chicago’s favor,” said Bylsma. “After that penalty kill and that goal we were able to start to play a little more, and get to our game, get to the offensive zone more and have some chances. Matt Cooke was certainly a presence for us.”
“I approach every game to score, help my team win, kill penalties and be a physical presence,” Cooke told reporters.
The Pens were energized and encouraged, and momentum began to swing their way. They were the dominant shooters in the second, 11-8, but the third still opened with a 1-1 tie.
It only took about a minute for Chicago forward Bryan Bickell to make the score 2-1, but at this point, things finally looked even on the ice. Both teams were working hard and the Pens had the determination and hustle they needed earlier on.
With only 3:18 remaining in regulation, AHL call-up Brett Sterling tied things up 2-2, assisted by forwards Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy. Sterling now has five points in five games, Staal has six in five, and Kennedy has seven in nine.
Both teams pushed to their limits in overtime. The Hawks managed to take three shots on goal while the Pens couldn’t make any happen. It was not for lack of trying, but while the offense worked as hard as it could, it was Fleury and the defense that sent the game into a shootout.
Despite Fleury’s amazing performance throughout the game, Hawks forward Patrick Kane scored while Penguins’ shooters Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, and Kennedy all missed.
To come back from such a poor start only to lose in a shootout is a painful letdown.
“I think most games this time of year are hotly contested,” forward Craig Adams told the press. “It’s that time of year and you’re going to see desperate hockey. One point is better than none, but we certainly would have liked to get that extra one.”
“We did a great job sticking with it and getting the point, but at the end of the day we want to win games,” said Cooke.
There is a moral to the story, though. The Penguins are capable of rising to any occasion, as long as they work hard, remain confident, and play the game they are good at.