In the middle of killing a lengthy 5-on-3, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ winning streak seemed to be in great jeopardy. But another outstanding defensive performance kept the scoreboard clean until the Pens broke through late on their way to a 2-0 win over the New York Islanders Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center.
The gritty performance marked Pittsburgh’s 15th straight victory, just two shy of the franchise’s NHL record 17-game winning streak set in 1992-93.
Pittsburgh had a tough go of it in the first two periods after captain Sidney Crosby suffered an injury early in the first period and did not return, but came through in the clutch again, thanks in large part to its defense and Tomas Vokoun, who recorded his second consecutive shutout.
After two scoreless periods and with the game in the balance, the Penguins yet again came through when they needed to most.
Matt Cooke broke the 0-0 tie just over eight minutes into the third. Deryk Engelland shot the puck toward the net. The puck got caught up in Cooke’s equipment, then popped free in the perfect position for him to whip around and shoot it past Evgeni Nabokov for the 1-0 lead.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Cooke said. “Too long. You want to help chip in offensively as much as you can and kind of got blanked the last couple of games and obviously, played a few more minutes tonight. So, it was nice to chip in.”
James Neal added an insurance goal, his second goal in eight games, about six minutes later when he streaked down the right side and send a blazing snap shot into the back of the Isles’ net.
“It definitely feels good (to score),” Neal said. “It’s been a few games obviously, but I had some good looks tonight and I may have passed up a few shots, but ‘Geno’ made a great wall play up to me and it felt good to find the back of the net.”
While the Pens are looking to break their own NHL record of 17 straight victories from the 1992-93 season, they broke a franchise record that was just as old. The Penguins have shut out their last three opponents for a period of 208:24 minutes, breaking their previous franchise record for its longest shutout streak of 187:30 set from Jan. 31 to Feb. 13, 1993.
“It was a tough game,” Vokoun said. “It’s nice come up with the shutout, but to preserve the winning streak, it’s even better and we have a lot of fun with it and it’s been great.”
Vokoun also set a personal record and the Penguins record for an individual shutout streak with 162:42 minutes, surpassing Marc-Andre Fleury’s record of 150:14 set from March 24-27, 2011.
Pittsburgh’s most impressive defensive stand came in the last few minutes of the second and extended into the first few of the third, after Kunitz was called for a five-minute major checking from behind penalty on Josh Bailey and Brooks Orpik was called for tripping three minutes later, giving New York a full 1:55 of 5-on-3.
The Pens killed both penalties, along with two others throughout the game, in impressive fashion as forwards like Cooke, who dominated the first minute and change of the five-minute penalty kill, made it difficult for the Isles to establish possession in Pittsburgh’s zone.
“They want to go on the offense, we know that,” Cooke said. “I just felt opportunities to jump on loose pucks and try to keep it with me. At the first part of the 5-on-4 of the five minutes, I was just able to keep it and chase it in the offensive zone and if I got it near me, they couldn’t go the other way, so I don’t think I did anything special, just stayed on the puck.”
“Playing the 5-on-3 for a minute and a half takes a lot out of you,” Vokoun said, “it takes a lot out of you and we battled all the way through the end. It was a big momentum (turner), it gets the crowd into it and so it was great. It was a big momentum boost for our team.”
Vokoun also made an impressive stop on a Michael Grabner breakaway.
Just 50 seconds into his first shift, Sidney Crosby left the game after a shot from Brooks Orpik was deflected and re-directed into his mouth.
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The deal that seemed like a fantasy became a very real reality Saturday, when Jarome Iginla stepped on the ice as a Pittsburgh Penguin for the first time.
Iginla started the game alongside linemates Malkin and Neal, receiving a rousing ovation from the record setting 18,673 in attendance at CONSOL Energy Center when his name was announced.
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Author: Sam Kasan