The Pittsburgh Penguins very well might have been staring at a lost season had they lost in regulation to the Carolina Hurricanes. Thursday night, the teams they are pursuing for a wild-card berth, the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning, won. In short, the Penguins would have been a country mile behind if they slipped against Carolina.
Instead of getting impatient or overaggressive, the Penguins remained patient and poised. They gave up more scoring chances (24) than they earned (14), at least according to NaturalStatTrick.com, but the shots were nearly even (25-24 for Carolina), and most importantly, the Penguins won in a shootout, 2-1.
You can get the Penguins’ report card here.
There wasn’t a lot of lingering around to enjoy the win Thursday. In fact, not many players had statistically important games. Only Sidney Crosby scored, both in regulation and the shootout, but as a team, the Penguins finally held firm against the Hurricanes.
Carolina had beaten the Penguins in 10 of the previous 13 games, and the Penguins were winless in the last five (0-3-2), going back to last season. Perhaps it wasn’t a fun game. They won ugly, but they kept pace in the Eastern Conference and gained a point on a playoff team.
If they had lost, they would have been eight points behind Carolina instead of five and about seven points out of a playoff spot instead of a more manageable five.
That’s how big the Penguins’ win was.
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The Penguins captain came through with all of the offense, just as he did last week when the team beat the Montreal Canadiens, also in a shootout. Crosby (19) scored the lone Penguins goal in regulation, and then he was the only shooter to slip one past in the shootout.
Every divisional game is figuratively worth four points, though Thursday’s win was only a “three-point” game because of the loser point. Still, it meant the world.
Carolina has dominated the Penguins, even if all of the games were teeth-grinding one-goal games. And so, the captain, as he’s done all season, came to the rescue.
“It was good to get over the hump,” Crosby admitted of finally beating Carolina.
The Penguins backup goalie is starting to look a little less like a backup and morph into a bonafide option on any night. He’s 8-5-2 with a very healthy .927 save percentage.
He’s also won both shootouts he’s been in this season.
However, the interesting part of Nedeljkovoc’s postgame comments–he’s a pretty good talker–was his assessment of the game. He broke it down like an analyst. Nedeljkovic explained what the Penguins wanted to do and what they did.
He also firmly shot down having any plan in the shootout.
“No, I try really not to think about that stuff. For me, the more I think, the worse I get.”
I thought Sullivan hedged just a little when asked to grade his team’s performance against his Wednesday comments about what they had to do better.
“I thought we did a pretty decent job,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t give up any sort of dangerous, odd-man rushes two-on-ones, things of that nature.”