Using two goals in 17 seconds, the Vancouver Canucks seized control of a game they chased for much of Tuesday night.
The Pittsburgh Penguins mustn’t have been that impressed. They did the Canucks one better, then polished off their latest victory in a very familiar way.
Sidney Crosby followed up his late tying goal by netting the only tally of a three-round shootout, handing the Penguins an unlikely 5-4 win over the Canucks at Rogers Arena. Kris Letang and Crosby scored 16 seconds apart late in the third period to erase a 4-2 deficit, countering Vancouver’s quick pair earlier in the frame that appeared to be decisive.
Brian Gibbons and Evgeni Malkin scored early goals to put the Penguins (32-12-1, 65 points) ahead by two, but the Canucks put up four straight to turn the game around. Vancouver (23-13-9, 55 points) mounted a three-goal third period, with Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian finishing beautifully to boost the home side ahead with 6 1/2 minutes remaining.
But Letang, who previously had nothing to show for a strong effort, lasered a slap shot past Canucks goalie Eddie Lack with 1:11 left to give the Penguins a chance. They took advantage of that opportunity when Crosby coolly corralled a deflected Jussi Jokinen shot with his right foot and jammed it home from the right post.
James Neal had the best chance of the overtime on a 2-on-1 rush with Malkin, but Lack made the best of his 31 saves to set up a shootout. That’s where Marc-Andre Fleury did his thing, denying Kassian, Mike Santorelli and Chris Higgins to make a winner out of Crosby’s second-round goal. Fleury, who was on the bench for the Penguins’ final two regulation tallies, improved on his all-time NHL-best shootout save percentage while helping Pittsburgh improve to 4-0 in the tiebreaker this season.
Fleury was strong for most of the night, although he didn’t see Chris Tanev‘s tying goal sail through a screen and inside the right post 7:39 into the third. Fleury (22 saves) had just robbed Tanev on a chance from the slot seconds earlier, but the Penguins couldn’t clear the puck.
Higgins beat Fleury through the legs on a breakaway with 6:53 to go, an eye-pleasing goal that Kassian one-upped when he batted a bouncing pass into the top-right corner of the net on his backhand just seconds later.
However, the Canucks allowed a last-minute rally for the second straight game. While they are now winless in their past five, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma moved into first place by himself on the franchise’s victory list with No. 233, surpassing Eddie Johnston.
Tuesday’s game started rather quietly, as the teams from opposite conferences used caution at the start, and the fans were content to sit on their hands. They let out an audible groan when Gibbons pounced on a puck that eluded Vancouver defenseman Dan Hamhuis, then slid a forehand shot under Lack on a partial breakaway.
The goal, Gibbons’ second in 11 NHL games, gave the Pens a 1-0 lead at 13:15 of the first. Chris Kunitz and Malkin had back-to-back opportunities to make it 2-0 in the final moments before intermission, but they each hit the side of the net with their open shots.
Malkin did connect for his 12th of the season 5:25 into the second, finishing a deflected pass from Neal in the right circle. Later in the period, Lack denied Letang twice on point-blank shots that would’ve raised the Pittsburgh advantage to three.
Much like Letang, Crosby experienced more than his share of frustration for most of the evening. On the same day he was named to his second Canadian Olympic team, Crosby was visibly hobbled by a first-period Malkin shot that struck his right foot.
Crosby’s pain increased when his pass up the middle of his own zone was intercepted by Vancouver’s Jason Garrison, who snapped a hard wrister upstairs on Fleury to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1 with 4:25 left in the second. That mistake boosted the Canucks’ comeback effort, which nearly stole two points away from the Pens in the first of a three-game trip through Western Canada.
The first-place Penguins get two days off before facing Edmonton at 10 p.m. Eastern time Friday night. Pittsburgh defeated the Oilers 3-2 on Oct. 15 at Consol Energy Center.
Notes: Kunitz, the only other Penguin to make the Canadian Olympic roster, assisted on Crosby’s late goal. Finnish Olympian Jokinen finished with two helpers on the night…This was Crosby’s first game at Rogers Arena since his overtime goal clinched the 2010 Olympic gold medal for Team Canada…Pittsburgh swept the season series from Vancouver 2-0. The Pens prevailed at home Oct. 19, 4-3 in a shootout…Twin Canucks stars Henrik and Daniel Sedin were held scoreless.