The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the Detroit Red Wings for the first 40 minutes of Monday night’s game, only to crumble in the third period and let go of a 4-0 lead.
Things could have been a lot worse, however, if the Pens had not picked up the pieces and survived overtime. Forward James Neal was the only one to score in the shootout, ending the game at 5-4 in favor of Pittsburgh.
No one likes to see such a cushioned lead slip away, but a win is a win; two points are two points – especially when taken from the rival Wings.
“I certainly like leaving this building with two points,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma told the press after the win.
“Knowing there’s a rivalry, knowing we blew such a big lead in the third, knowing that we did come back, and we got the win (is a good feeling),” forward Pascal Dupuis said to the media.
Dupuis contributed two goals, one of which came shorthanded.
“It was one of those games where the puck was bouncing my way,” he explained.
Also on the score sheet are forwards Chris Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy. Kunitz has been essential since his return from injury, logging eight points in his last four games.
Despite the happy ending, a painful flaw in the Pens’ game has again been exposed. As a team, they tend to melt down when momentum is reversed.
When Henrik Zetterberg scored Detroit’s first goal late in the second period, the Pens seemed to panic. In the third, they lost their grip on the offense and took two back-to-back penalties, each resulting in a goal for the Wings.
“The goal…at the end of the second allowed a little bit of momentum, and they came out with the power plays,” Bylsma said. “We couldn’t win a draw, and they were able to really come at us.”
A weak power play and penalty kill made a deadly duo as well. The Pens couldn’t capitalize on any of their man-advantages, and despite the shorthanded goal, the penalty kill was not up to par. The suspension of Matt Cooke definitely left a gap in the team’s ability to kill penalties.
Monday’s game similar to Sunday’s loss against the New York Rangers, in which penalties and a diminished lead caused the Pens to combust. This time, thankfully, they kept their heads above water long enough to survive through overtime.
Goaltender Brent Johnson made 37 saves on 41 shots and performed perfectly in the shootout.
“It would’ve been tough,” Johnson said to the media of losing after such a good first two periods. “You don’t really know unless it happens, but it definitely would have been hard. I’m happy we could get a shootout win.”
The postgame buzz, however, was all about Neal and his game-winning goal.
“He’s a guy I wanted to see finish the game for us,” said Bylsma. “He certainly came up with a big shot. He’s done it in the past (in Dallas) and it’s good to see him get that goal for us.”
“Obviously, coming to a new team, you want to help the team win no matter what,” Neal told the press. “I’m getting chances (in regulation) and I’m shooting the puck, and hopefully it’s just a matter of time before they start finding the back of the net. But as long as the team’s winning, things are good.”
While Neal’s contribution should not be diminished, the Pens need to be able to maintain success in regulation time, especially if they want to make it in the playoffs.