The Pittsburgh Penguins have now turned their recent six-game losing streak into a five-game winning streak. And one of the biggest differences has been the club’s ability to face down adversity within a contest and find a way to bounce back.
Friday, against the Montreal Canadiens, the Penguins let up a fluky opening goal just 34 seconds into the game. Twice, they faced two-goal deficits. They were on the wrong end of a 4-2 score heading into the third period, where they had been just 3-14-1 in coming from behind this year.
The newly resilient Penguins, however, kept on coming. Keyed by a two-goal performance from Dustin Jeffrey – recently back in the lineup after losing the better part of a year to knee surgeries – and the game-tying goal and shootout winner by the league’s hottest player, Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh stormed back to beat the Canadiens, 5-4.
“Tough game tonight; we started slow,” Malkin said. “But, after the second [period], we talked here in the locker room and said we need to work 20 minutes and win this game, because we’re playing at home and we need the two points.”
During the winning streak, Malkin has had a way of taking control of a game, seemingly by sheer will. His game-tying goal – a slapshot over the stick of Habs netminder Peter Budaj – came with less than three minutes remaining in the contest, and he pounded on the glass in an emotional and enthusiastic celebration. In the shootout, he turned on the speed as he came at Budaj to net the decisive goal, even after playing nearly 26 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back schedule.
“I don’t know how the energy comes,” Malkin said. “We were losing and I wanted to win this game, and I just gave a little bit more energy. I didn’t play great the first two periods, so I double-worked myself in the third period, just worked hard.”
“I think he’s had that look for about a month and a half now,” Jeffrey said. “He’s able to do a lot of things that a lot of guys aren’t able to do, and he seems to be scoring those timely goals for us. It’s just what he’s been doing lately; it’s unbelievable.”
Malkin reaching another level – he now has a three-point lead atop the NHL’s scoring race – has certainly keyed the Penguins’ turnaround. So have the returns of offensive weapons like Jeffrey, who had been knocking on the doorstep in his past two or three contests before breaking out with a two-goal, three-point night against Montreal, and Pittsburgh’s best defenseman, Kris Letang, who also netted a goal, an assist and a spectacular chase and diving play to thwart a Habs breakaway chance.
Most important to the Penguins’ improved record, however, has been a newfound refusal to hang their heads when they fall behind, surrender a fluky goal or take a bad penalty. That includes goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who overcome a rough start against Montreal to make timely saves down the stretch and shut down the Canadiens in the shootout.
“We’re feeling confident. Even though we were down a lot of times, everybody kept staying positive through it,” Fleury said. “I think we were playing well, we got our chances and we found a way to win.”
“I think the response from our team has been right where it needs to be in terms of being resilient,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “Tonight wasn’t a perfect game from us – a bounce to get them on the board, then we tie it and they get another goal. We were not executing at the level we wanted to numerous times tonight, but we were able to keep battling. We had to kill some penalties off when it could’ve gotten out of hand, and our guys came up big. And, coming out for the third, there was a feeling that we had a chance to keep playing our way and get some chances to win the game.
“The mindset and mentality of our team [is] playing with a little bit of an attitude, keep coming at you. I think this is a game that, a week and a half or two weeks ago, would’ve gotten away from us. But we found a way to win a game – not always the prettiest, but we were able to dig down and come back.”