When Sidney Crosby had a promising third-period rush thwarted by an out-of-position linesman, the Penguins could’ve easy concluded that it simply wasn’t their night. But instead of self-flaggelating in front of a Thursday evening sellout crowd at Air Canada Centre, they constructed a late comeback for the second straight game.
Pascal Dupuis scored twice in just over five minutes, including the game-winner with 2:10 remaining, as the Penguins collected their seventh win in a row in eerily reminiscent fashion. Just two days prior, Brandon Sutter had a pair of goals late in the third to boost Pittsburgh to a 3-2 home victory over Boston.
This time, the Penguins (20-8-0, 40 points) rallied on the road, where they are now 12-4 on the season. It was also the second time his week they’d beaten the Maple Leafs in Toronto; Pittsburgh topped the Leafs 5-4 in a shootout Saturday night.
Crosby and Chris Kunitz earned assists on both Dupuis goals, with each doing the heavy lifting on one. Craig Adams scored the Penguins’ first shorthanded goal of the season into an empty net with 10 seconds left to cap the victory, which pushed Pittsburgh into a tie with Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference. In the usually-tough Atlantic Division, the Pens have opened up a nine-point lead on second-place New Jersey.
Compared to the Penguins’ most recent hockey night in Canada, Thursday’s game was much more cautious. Much like Tuesday night against Boston, Pittsburgh didn’t generate many good scoring opportunities until the third. Unlike Tuesday, their impotence was more of their own doing than the opponents’.
At any rate, the Maple Leafs (15-12-1) carried a 1-0 advantage into the third period, with Tyler Bozak’s goal midway through the second standing as the only tally into the game’s final 10 minutes. Cody Franson and Phil Kessel, who each scored against Pittsburgh on Saturday, earned assists on the Bozak goal from the side of the net.
Not long after Crosby was inadvertently defended by an official just over the Toronto blue line, the Penguins went to work on the forecheck. Kunitz threw a check to knock the puck free in the left corner, then dished to Crosby at the left circle. The Pittsburgh captain quickly tossed a behind-the-back feed to the near post, which Dupuis collected and stashed past Leafs goalie Ben Scrivens with 7:18 left in the third.
Less than a minute after Dupuis’ equalizer, Brooks Orpik went to the penalty box for tripping. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was strong throughout in his second straight start, made a couple above-average saves during the resulting shorthanded situation to keep the game tied.
However, the finest of Fleury’s 28 saves was still ahead. Toronto’s Leo Komarov was gifted a breakaway chance with about three minutes remaining in regulation when Orpik’s stick broke while he tried to keep a puck in the Maple Leafs’ zone. Seconds later, Fleury picked up his teammate by standing up to stop Komarov with the glove hand.
In addition to the clutch stop on Komarov, Fleury spectacularly denied Dion Phaneuf and Nazem Kadri with kick saves earlier, preventing Toronto from creating more separation on home ice.
The Leafs, currently hanging onto the No. 7 spot in the East, continued to push for the regulation win late in the third, but instead the Penguins would snatch it away on a quick counterattack. With about 2:20 showing on the clock, Crosby deflected a pass intended for Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk at the right circle, sending Kunitz down the left wing with room to skate.
Kunitz then pulled off a play No. 87 would be proud of. Stopping hard at the left wing half-wall, Kunitz tossed a backhand pass in the slot for Dupuis, who ripped a one-time snap shot over Scrivens’ glove to break the deadlock. Dupuis has 13 goals on the season, third most on the team behind Kunitz (18) and James Neal (17).
Dupuis was on the ice in the final minute, in search of the hat trick after the Leafs pulled Scrivens. Instead, Adams delivered the clincher after Orpik was whistled for a questionable boarding call at 19:37. The Penguins’ fourth-line center was simply trying to clear the puck out of the defensive zone when he happened to find the empty net as well.
With his two-assist night, Crosby maintains his eight-point lead in the NHL scoring race, although his nearest pursuer is now Kunitz, whose 39 points put him one ahead of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos for second.
The Penguins scored at least three goals for the seventh consecutive game, coinciding with their winning streak. Evgeni Malkin missed his third game with an undisclosed upper-body injury, which he sustained during a van Riemsdyk check Saturday night.
The Penguins begin a three-game homestand Saturday afternoon at 1 when they host the struggling New York Rangers (13-11-2, 28 points). Pittsburgh will play eight of its next nine at Consol Energy Center.