Fleury robbed the Ottawa Senators of a sure go-ahead goal midway through the third period and Neal smoothly buried the game-winner 1:55 into sudden death to give the Penguins a 2-1 victory Monday at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins (39-15-2, 80 points) were locked in an intense 1-1 tie with the Senators through 50 minutes of hard-hitting, quick-moving action. Brian Gibbons‘ first-period power play goal had countered Stephane Da Costa‘s early tally for Ottawa, but Fleury and Craig Anderson orchestrated a tremendous goalie duel from there.
While Anderson had to be at the top of his game to keep the Senators (24-21-11, 49 points) in a deadlock – the Penguins had a season-high 48 shots – Fleury won the positional battle with perhaps the best save of his career 9 1/2 minutes into the third. Talented Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson worked a give-and-go with Clarke MacArthur, with Karlsson finding himself all alone for a clean shot in the right circle.
However, Fleury had a surprise for the former Norris Trophy winner, sliding to his left and acrobatically reaching up to snag Karlsson’s rising wrister with his glove.
The Penguins, who launched 44 shots in regulation, couldn’t reward Fleury immediately for that spectacular stop, but they did cash in during overtime. Neal started the decisive play with a steal inside the Senators’ blue line, then punched it along to Evgeni Malkin on the left-wing boards.
Malkin fed a pinching Robert Bortuzzo creeping in for a shot from the slot that Anderson kicked out. But Neal lassoed the rebound, dragged it around Ottawa’s Marc Methot and snapped it past a fallen Anderson for his 17th of the year and first tally in nine games.
Sidney Crosby‘s line didn’t generate an even-strength goal for the third straight game, but his rookie right wing Gibbons netted his third NHL goal by deflecting Olli Maatta‘s point shot with 3:37 left in the first and Pittsburgh on a power play. Da Costa had put Ottawa ahead two minutes earlier with a nifty forehand shot under the crossbar from a sharp angle.
The Penguins outshot the Senators 16-8 in the second period and 15-9 in the third, largely controlling the high-tempo tilt despite being unable to win in regulation.
With Neal’s goal, Pittsburgh avoided back-to-back losses for the first time since late November, while Ottawa dropped its second straight to stay in sixth place in the Atlantic Division.
The first-place Pens travel to Buffalo on Wednesday night for their penultimate game before the Olympic break. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. from the First Niagara Center.
Notes: Pittsburgh’s Taylor Pyatt left the game early in the first period with an undisclosed injury. Fellow bottom-six wingers Jayson Megna and Andrew Ebbett were scratched due to lower-body ailments…In addition to outshooting Ottawa 48-25, the Penguins had comfortable leads in overall Fenwick (60-38) and Corsi (74-52)…Pittsburgh’s top-ranked power play went 1 for 3, although many members of the home team felt the referees should’ve awarded them a few more opportunities.