In the last two days, the Pittsburgh Penguins have allowed third periods to get away from them. On Sunday, Matt Cooke’s much-reviled hit (in conjunction with Matt Niskanen’s high-stick double-minor) gave the New York Rangers enough power-play opportunities to ultimately take a game Pittsburgh arguably deserved to win.
A lack of discipline and closing ability nearly doomed the Penguins against the Detroit Red Wings tonight, but James Neal earned the shootout win to help his team save face (and two points).
Pascal Dupuis (two goals and one assist overall) and Chris Kunitz (one goal, one assist) made it 2-0 in the first period, while Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy increased Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-0 midway through the second. Yet it seemed like Henrik Zetterberg’s late second period gave the Red Wings some momentum, as they took control of the third.
Valtteri Filppula scored about two minutes into the final frame and then Detroit’s power play took over, with Danny Cleary and Mike Modano finding the twine on the man advantage.
It was a rough outing for Jimmy Howard, as the Red Wings’ workhorse was pulled after allowing four goals on 15 shots. Joey MacDonald was a stabilizing force in relief, stopping all 10 shots during the remainder of the game and only yielding Neal’s shootout goal. Brent Johnson absorbed all four Detroit goals but deservedly earned his 11th win of the season by making 37 saves. Pittsburgh is Marc-Andre Fleury’s team, but Johnson provides the team with a useful backup.
What this outcome means for the Penguins and Red Wings:
While the Penguins must be a little concerned about giving up third period leads, they still managed to beat the West’s second best team on the tail end of back-to-back games. Considering all their injuries, they can pat themselves on the back a bit (at least now that they won). With two less games remaining and four less points than the Philadelphia Flyers, the Atlantic Division title is almost certainly out of reach for Pittsburgh. They did, however, strengthen their hold on the fourth spot; the Penguins have three more points than the fifth-place Tampa Bay Lightning (although the Bolts hold an extra game in hand).
The Red Wings should be fairly happy with the fact that they stole a point from this game. They hold a three-point lead over the San Jose Sharks for the West’s No. 2 seed, which might become an important factor if the two teams meet in a second round series for the second year in a row.