The Pittsburgh Penguins fell back onto some old comforts in Sunday night’s 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Consol Energy Center.
There was Brooks Orpik laying out an opponent with a devastating check. There was Marc-Andre Fleury dashing about his crease to deny a variety of chances. There was Sidney Crosby making the most of opportunities to put the game out of reach.
Crosby scored twice in the third period – including a rare empty-netter – and Fleury stopped 25 shots in his second straight difference-making performance, but the game might’ve been decided in the first period.
James Neal and Lee Stempniak scored 21 seconds apart midway through the first, counteracting Chicago’s early territorial advantage. Both goals came off the rush, as Pittsburgh caught the Hawks napping with quick chips up the ice.
The Penguins (48-22-5, 101 points) had the edge from there until Sheldon Brookbank drilled a long shot through traffic and into the net at 11:10 of the second period. Late in the middle frame, Orpik drove his shoulder into the unsuspecting Jonathan Toews, sending the Chicago captain out of the game with an apparent left-arm injury.
It was the type of hit that made Orpik a Pittsburgh fan favorite in the first place, but it’s something the 33-year-old has been doing less and less over the years.
The Blackhawks (42-19-15, 99 points) rebounded admirably from Orpik’s clean blow to their leader, dominating the opening 10 minutes of the third period. That’s when Fleury carried his teammates by turning away several big-time chances, the best of which was Patrick Sharp‘s point-blank opportunity from the slot.
With Chicago getting desperate, the Pens had to know they’d get some open ice. Stempniak chipped out a loose puck to Crosby with about 10 minutes to go, but Hawks goalie Corey Crawford made the best of his 23 saves to keep it 2-1.
Crawford was unable to repeat that feat with five minutes to go, as Crosby snapped a dart to the top shelf on another 2-on-1 rush. It was goal No. 35 for No. 87, and it put the Penguins in the driver’s seat. Chris Kunitz earned his second assist of the game on the clinching goal.
Crosby added his 36th with 1:16 left, burying a shot from center ice for his first empty-net goal since Nov. 2010.
The Penguins have won two in a row for the first time in three weeks, improving their post-Olympic record to 8-7-2. They host Carolina on Tuesday with a chance to clinch the Metropolitan Division with a win.
Notes: While it was just the second all-time matchup between Canadian Olympic teammates Crosby and Toews, Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Kane both missed the game with lower-body injuries…Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta returned to the ice after being a healthy scratch Friday in Columbus, a 2-1 win for Pittsburgh.