Ah, Valentine's Day. Romance is in the air, and Nikolai Khabibulin is in goal.
For any team, a big part of a long winning streak is pulling out a win when you're not at the top of your game. That's the situation the Pens found themselves in tonight. They just seemed to be a half-step behind Chicago for most of the game.
Not that the 'Hawks needed much hustle for their first goal. All they needed was a funny bounce off the Zamboni doors behind Marc-Andre Fleury, and Craig MacDonald on the spot. A dump-in becomes a shorthanded goal, and Fleury wishes for the umpteenth time that the Pens would shoot at that end twice.
Chicago's lead wouldn't last long. Two minutes later, Ronald Petrovicky took a pass in the high slot, waited for the screen from Jarkko Ruutu, and punched a half-slapper behind Khabibulin. Tied at 1's.
The second was more of the same: Chicago finding out that playing full-speed against a Pittsburgh team playing 9/10 is really an even match-up. But it's not really even when your goalie is giving up soft goals. First, during a penalty kill, Max Talbot picks up a loose puck at the point, with room to skate. He streaked through the neutral zone, swung wide right, cut around a Blackhawk at the goal line, skated to the front of the net, and found Khabibulin in a most unladylike position. Five-hole, short-handed, 2-1 Pens. With about five minutes left, Erik Christensen chipped a pass to Michel Ouellet, who ripped a wrist shot from the top of the right circle over Khabibulin's shoulder. 3-1 Pens.
Then the Pens' recent habit of giving up leads reared its ugly head. Patrick Sharp hung Fleury out to dry with under 2:00 left in the second to close to 3-2. Early in the third, Martin St. Pierre collected a rebound for a power play goal, and we're tied at 3's. Then the refs, who I found out in the post-game show were last minute substitutes, pretty much jobbed the Pens. As Denis Arkhipov was skating to the boards for a line change, Tuomo Ruutu (Jarkko's little brother) jumped on waaaaaay too early, took a pass from Martin Lapointe, and beat Fleury. 4-3 'Hawks, Michel Therrien is standing on top of the bench, screaming for a referee's attention, but they were too busy being screamed at by Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik.
Evgeni Malkin to the rescue! 1:10 after Ruutu's goal, Sid was stopped by Khabibulin, but Malkin poked the rebound in to tie it at 4's.
Overtime should have ended 15 seconds in. Martin Havlat took a cross-slot pass and chipped it into what looked like an open net. Fleury kicked his left skate out and stopped the puck, then sprawled out to cover it with his glove. Then overtime should have ended with 15 seconds left. Sidney Crosby was absolutely possessed on the Pens' last rush, fighting off defenders and driving the net over and over again. Chicago was saved by the bell, forcing the shootout.
- Christensen rang a wrist shot off the post and in. 1-0 Pens.
- Fleury gloved Havlat's backhand attempt. 1-0 Pens.
- Crosby finally scored in Philly with the old "grip it and rip it" technique. Khabibulin must have read the scouting report, and gloved it. 1-0 Pens.
- Bryan Smolinski decided that Havlat's move should have been foolproof, and tried it himself. Fleury wasn't fooled. 1-0 Pens.
- Malkin not only undressed Khabibulin, he had enough time to wash the uniform and hang it out on the line before sliding the backhand in. 2-0 Pens.
And thus, once again, the Penguins find a way to win.
I also found out from the post-game show why Alain Nasreddine was a scratch tonight: His son Alec was born today. 6 pounds, 6 ounces. How's that for a sign? Congratulations Ma and Pa Nasreddine!
Final Score: Penguins 5, Blackhawks 4 (Pens win shootout 2-0), tonight's attendance in all that snow and ice on the roads: 17,051!
- Evgeni Malkin (1G, 1SOG)
- Max Talbot (1G)
- Tuomo Ruutu (1G, 1 blown too many men on the ice call)