The Pittsburgh Penguins were pleased with their performance in a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at PPG Paints Arena. And now the scoreboard-watching begins in earnest.
Admittedly, they didn’t have a chance to look at the scoreboard before the locker room opened to the media. They’ll be disappointed to learn the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders breezed to wins, and that they remain one point behind both with three games to go.
“No, but we’re going to check right now,” said Jason Zucker as he made a beeline for the players’ lounge, presumably to do just that.
The Penguins finally played a solid third period. They didn’t allow odd-man rushes or copious scoring chances or suffer multiplying mistakes. They weren’t great, but coach Mike Sullivan saw the details his team has lacked far too often this season.
The Penguins limited Minnesota to eight high-danger chances Thursday. By contrast, they’ve occasionally allowed more than that in a single period. Stats are according to NaturualStatTrick.com.
“We did a much better job playing a calculated game, and we just made better decisions on when we were aggressive, whether it be our D pinching the wall or our forwards,” said Sullivan. “I thought we did a much better job just working to get up on the puck, working to get above people. We didn’t give up nearly the level of odd-man rushes. And I think when we do that, we’re a whole lot harder to play against.”
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The Penguins’ resident talker had a big smile. The team didn’t make it interesting down the stretch, nor did they force themselves to survive a bevy of mistakes.
What a change.
“It was a huge win for us. So that was a complete team effort,” said Zucker. “I thought everyone played really well. Once we got the lead, we’ve got to try to stay out of the box a little bit. Giving the five-on-three was tough … it was a complete effort playing with the lead, and it was good to come away with that.”
The Penguins’ defensive stalwart showed off some of his offensive skills in the third period with a rush and a dish that set up the clinching goal.
The Penguins led, 3-1, but Minnesota was pushing in the third period. Dumoulin raced into the offensive zone and shoveled a pass to Drew O’Connor, who zipped a nifty cross-ice pass that Jeff Carter deflected into the net for a 4-1 lead.
“We have to (keep up this intensity). I don’t know what happened in the other games. But, we know if we keep winning, we’ll give ourselves the best chance to make playoffs here,” Dumoulin said. “So, I mean, (it’s) the playoffs now, and obviously, we’ve got to continue with these efforts, and we’ve got to build off this one.”
Dumoulin’s defense partner, Letang, logged over 23 minutes Thursday. The Penguins’ top defenseman had two points, including a wicked wrister in the first period that beat old friend Marc-Andre Fleury.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby won the offensive zone faceoff back to Letang, who skated it deeper into the offensive zone. In full stride from the right circle, Letang whistled the wrist shot over Fleury’s shoulder.
“No, I didn’t say anything (to Fleury after the goal),” Letang said. “It’s getting a little bit more natural to shoot on him now, but it’s still kind of weird. Yeah. Just weird.”
Letang also refocused questions from PHN about erasing the sour taste from the lopsided loss to New Jersey Tuesday. “We’re going to say that tomorrow is more important than tonight, you know,” he said.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have called off the practice scheduled for Friday and will play at Detroit Saturday. They have not uniformly played well against the Red Wings this season.