The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 6, 2013

Jokinen, Fleury help Penguins snap streak

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins grabbed Jussi Jokinen from Carolina at the trade deadline, hopeful that the smooth skating forward could fill in while superstar Sidney Crosby recovers from a broken jaw.

Jokinen certainly borrowed a page from Crosby’s flair for the dramatic in his Penguins debut, scoring in regulation and then adding the only tally in the shootout as Pittsburgh edged the New York Rangers 2-1 on Friday night.

“When you come here you always want to make a good first impression,” Jokinen said. “I made a huge one.”

Jokinen beat Henrik Lundqvist with a wrist shot 32 seconds into the third period, and then one of the NHL’s top shootout specialists slipped a wrister over the New York goalie in the first round of the tiebreaker as the Penguins snapped out of a two-game funk that came on the heels of a 15-game winning streak.

“We needed two goals to win, one in regular time and one in the shootout, and he got both of those,” Pittsburgh forward Pascal Dupuis said. “It’s great for our team, great for his confidence. He probably feels at home right now.”

Having Marc-Andre Fleury in top form certainly helped. The Pittsburgh goalie stopped 34 shots and then stoned Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Callahan in the shootout as the Eastern Conference’s top team bounced back from a 6-1 loss to New York on Wednesday.

Fleury allowed every one of the New York goals in Pittsburgh’s worst loss of the season. If it bothered him, it didn’t show. He was spectacular at times to prevent the Rangers from sweeping the home-and-home series.

“I thought we played really well, really well,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “Fleury was the difference.”

Nash’s 14th goal tied it with 4:49 remaining and New York grabbed a crucial point as it vies for a playoff spot. The Rangers moved into seventh place in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race and pushed the Atlantic Division-leading Penguins to the limit in a game that had a postseason feel.

The chippiness bubbled over in the third period. New York defenseman Michael Del Zotto elbowed Pittsburgh forward James Neal in the face, sending Neal sprawling to the ice. He slowly got to his feet but left the game and didn’t return.

Pittsburgh enforcer Matt Cooke buzzed the New York bench, exchanging words with several Rangers and then whacking Lundqvist on the shoulder.

“I don’t know what he is doing, seriously,” Lundqvist said. “It’s just ridiculous. It’s not the first time, right?  It’s him being him.”

Lundqvist finished with 26 saves in his 500th NHL game but might have tweaked his hamstring in the shootout. He expects to be available Saturday when the Rangers play at Carolina.

While Lundqvist was typically efficient behind a defense that rarely let the Penguins get in deep, Fleury was busier as Pittsburgh – missing injured top defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin – had trouble keeping the Rangers from creating heavy traffic in front.

At one point in the second period, Fleury’s glove came off during a scramble. It slid to the wall behind the net as play continued in front of the Pittsburgh goal. Fleury went down into his usual butterfly stance and flexed his bare hand when the Rangers managed to squeeze off a shot.

Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland blocked it while lying on the ice, and a linesman handed the glove back to Fleury as the Penguins raced the other way.

“Might as well try,” Fleury said. “You don’t want to just let it in. I gave it a shot.”

Jokinen gave the Penguins the lead when he skated to open space as Chris Kunitz controlled the puck behind the New York net. The shot was perfect, and Pittsburgh took its first lead in nearly a week.

The way Fleury was playing, it looked as though it would be enough.

Jokinen’s goal appeared to fire up the Rangers, who tilted the ice over the next five minutes. During one sequence, Nash fed Ryan Callahan, who spun around as he drove to the left post and sent a perfect no-look backhand pass across the crease to a hard-charging Derek Stepan.

Fleury jumped to his left, and the puck somehow went right into the webbing of his glove.

Fleury’s best stop came with 5 minutes to go when he lost his balance and fell on his backside as Brassard threw a shot from behind the net at Fleury’s legs. Fleury somehow managed to close his pads and keep the puck an inch short of the goal line even as Nash jabbed at it.

The save was upheld by video review, but Nash netted the tying goal off the ensuing faceoff. Stepan won the draw in the left circle and sent the puck right to Nash, who beat Fleury cleanly.

Despite having all the momentum in the final minutes of regulation and overtime, New York couldn’t break through, and the Penguins improved to 3-0 in shootouts.

“We dominated the third,” Tortorella said. “The reason why we don’t win the game in the third is Fleury.”

NOTES: The Rangers scratched D Roman Hamrlik and Matt Gilroy as well as F J.T. Miller. ... In addition to Crosby, the Penguins scratched forwards Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale, and D Simon Despres. ... The Penguins are off until Tuesday, when they travel to face the Carolina Hurricanes.

 

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