It’s not often that a two-goal night is relegated to third-fiddle status, but that was the case for James Neal on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
That’s no slight to Neal’s performance; the Penguins needed every bit of offense on a night they mustered just 24 shots. However, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury still get the marquee to themselves after a 4-3 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings.
For Letang, just stepping on the ice was worth celebrating, as the dynamic defenseman returned to game action after a 10-week recuperation from a stroke. His assist on Jussi Jokinen‘s go-ahead goal 9:17 into the third period was nice, but the real accomplishment occurred when Letang took his first shift.
As for Fleury, he was heroic for the second consecutive game, stopping 34 shots and all three Detroit shootout attempts to give the Pens a chance to earn their 100th all-time win at Consol. But it wasn’t what Fleury did, it was how he did it. The oft-spectacular goalie made one of the saves of his career on Daniel Alfredsson‘s leadoff shootout try, cartwheeling to deny the shot with the back of his glove along the goal line.
After Jonas Gustavsson stopped Sidney Crosby‘s nifty forehand try in the second round, Jokinen got a chance in the third frame to put the Pens ahead. He came through, albeit in extremely unorthodox fashion when he lost control of the puck and his desperate swipe caromed off Gustavsson’s stick and into the net.
Another lunging Fleury save, this time on Tomas Tatar, and the two points belonged to Pittsburgh. It seemed fitting that the Pens (51-24-5, 107 points) got a favorable bounce on Jokinen’s shootout goal, because the Red Wings (38-27-15, 91 points) twice took advantage of wacky caroms to score in regulation time.
A strange bounce resulted in the tying goal for Detroit’s Riley Sheahan with 1:15 to play in the third. His point shot hopped off Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin and deflected off the bottom of the crossbar and barely over the goal line.
Previous to that, the Pens appeared ready to deny the Wings’ bid for their 23rd straight Stanley Cup playoff berth. Detroit needed to merely get to overtime to lock up a spot, and they did after Sheahan’s tally.
Tomas Jurco put the Wings on top midway through the first when he swatted a lively ricochet off the end boards past Fleury. Neal tied the game nine minutes into the second, depositing Crosby’s slick backhand pass with a backhand deke of his own.
After Jakub Kindl‘s shot found twine at 14:22 of the second, Neal added his second of the game and 26th of the season during another Penguins power play. The left-handed sniper hammered a low slap shot around Gustavsson from the left circle with 3:18 to go before intermission.
Letang, who played 22:20 in his first game back since late January, wrote his name on the scoresheet in the third when he led the rush down the right wing and flung a puck that Gustavsson couldn’t find until Jokinen shoveled it into the open net behind him.
The Pens were lucky to survive the final minute of regulation and overtime, as the Wings took advantage of sloppy play to dominate possession. However, Lee Stempniak might’ve had the best chance of sudden death when he had two cracks at the game-winner against Gustavsson.
The Penguins have one more back-to-back situation to end the regular season. They host Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon before closing against Ottawa on Sunday night.