Pens Let Lead Slip, Lose 3-2

Bruce Bennett

19-0.

That was the Pens' record when leading after the second period...until this evening.

The Pens came into the third period holding on to a 2-1 lead and watched it slip away at the hands of the harder-working New Jersey Devils. Very similar to the Sabres game two days ago.

Speaking of the two teams, be grateful neither are making the playoffs since they hurt the Pens more than any other team. The Pens lost 42-percent of their games (five of 12) to both teams. Insane stat.

It was a slow start for the Pens who were getting beat 7-1 in shots. I could tell it was going to be one of those games when Evgeni Malkin zipped a perfectly-aimed puck to Tyler Kennedy and missed the open net. With that play, Kennedy, a healthy scratch against the Sabres, didn't help his case to start in the playoffs.

The Pens really started to wake up as the game progressed, none more the Malkin who picked up where he left off. Everything was clicking for him and he looks sharp. Consider my concerns for his shoulder gone; this guy is ready to go.

Another positive was the Matt Cooke - Brandon Sutter - Brenden Morrow line. They have been fierce and obviously accounted for the Pens' first goal of the game. Pittsburgh Trib's Josh Yohe seemed pretty confident that line would hold for the playoffs and what a third line that would be. Lots of grit with good, defensive presence and the occasional snipe job. They will be a nightmare for opposing lines.

Most notably in that line, Sutter has been quietly excellent. He was at the wrong end of an unfortunate play when Ilya Kovalchuk's centering pass deflected off his stick and in the net (to his credit, he was backchecking which was more than what Deryk Engelland did), but he's consistently been strong keeping watch over the middle of the ice. I think it's easy for him to get "lost" with the mix of stars the Pens have, but mark it down: Sutter will be clutch in the playoffs.

The rest of the game was a bit of a blur and put me in a trance. These games really are the worst because you're lying if you say you aren't looking ahead to next week...or at least to Saturday when there's a strong chance James Neal and Paul Martin return.

These games really don't matter, but from the sounds of the dressing room, the Pens aren't happy with their performance and they shouldn't be. But now is the time to flush the laziness out of their system. Their return to Pittsburgh for the last game of the season with a fired up crowd should be a bit of a boost as well. Not to mention the Pens haven't lost their last home game of the season since before Sidney Crosby was drafted.

Let's close the regular season on a positive note.

Go Pens.

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