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On a night when we welcome back three very important players (defensemen Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang and forward Tyler Kennedy) the Penguins kicked it back into high gear. Maybe it was that they were mad about a poor performance yesterday in Long Island, but Pittsburgh showed what they're capable of, ringing up right goals on poor Stephen Valiquette. That's right, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for Valiquette after the barrage he faced.
Marc Staal opened the scoring swooping in and beating birthday boy Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins would close the period very strongly, scoring three goals before intermission: Evgeni Malkin started things off, Sidney Crosby scored on a crazy angle and then Maxime Talbot got his first of the year. Crosby got the assists sandwiched around his goal, giving him a three point period.
The second period saw two defensemen for either team notched goals; Matt Gilroy got the Rangers within a goal before Mark Eaton got what would eventually be the game-winner. Thirty three seconds into the third period, former Penguin Michal Rozsival again brought NYR within a goal, when he made it 4-3. Sidney Crosby scored his second of the night to bring the Pens up 5-3 and then the wheels really fell off on the Rangers.
Pascal Dupuis literally scores on a knucklepuck from way out. Bad goal for Valiquette to allow. Then on the next shift, Matt Cooke hit Artem Anisimov away from the puck and was assessed a deserved minor for interference. This drove the Rangers for vengeance, as the Rangers really picked up the extracurriculars. Goon Donald Brashear tried to fight Cooke, but the Monster wasn't looking to go up in weight class. Big Brash was slapped with 4 minutes in penalties and Crosby got his hat-trick goal in the ensuing PP, 7-3 Pens. Tyler Kennedy tipped a Kris Letang shot to close the scoring on the back-end of that double minor penalty.
Cooke would drop the gloves with Ryan Callahan to atone for his hit, both earning a 10 minute misconduct to ensure their nights would be over. Then Aaron Voros tried to pick a fight with Jordan Staal and Sean Avery, being Sean Avery, basically jumped Ruslan Fedotenko from behind when the play went the other way for whatever reason. Avery got an instigator and a misconduct for his troubles, and Fedotenko wasn't penalized at all.
- Hat trick on hat night. That Crosby sure has a knack for timing.
- It was good to hear the crowd going crazy for Fleury; chanting his name and happy birthday for him in the closing moments of the game. Fleury had a couple flashy saves, but he wasn't the star of the show tonight so it was interesting to see the fan's love affair with him extend to a game where he wasn't the main storyline.
- Five points is Crosby's highest single game total since he got six [1g, 5a] against Philadelphia on December 13th 2006.
- Nice to see Cooke answer the bell with his scrap with Callahan. He's often been a guy to hit and run, with only now six fights since the lockout. The Code said he owed a Ranger a fight after the hit on Anisimov, so good to see him get it out of the way. We'll cut him a break for not responding to Brashear, right? I wouldn't want to fight that big guy either.
- Craig Adams has now gone 35 regular season games as a Penguin without a goal (he does have three playoff goals). It's been since last December 16th -- when Adams was a Chicago Blackhawk -- since his last regular season goal. Goal scoring isn't a key tenet of Adams' game, but it seems like he's been getting good chances lately. The red light may be coming on sooner than later for him.
- Two assists each for Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski. Tyler Kennedy got his goal and attempted 8 shots on the night. Welcome back, boys.
- Michael Del Zotto -- a legit contender for the Calder Trophy -- caught a tough one tonight; ringing up a -5 in the plus/minus column. That'll sting.
In a great twist of scheduling, the Penguins travel to Manhattan for a Monday night game, the next for both teams. Tonight's game got really chippy at the end, it'll be interesting to watch if any of the post-whistle activities carry over. The tension is sure to be at playoff-level intensity. The Rangers surely won't be throwing out old Valiquette again, it'll be the King. And you know coach John Tortorella is gonna be pissed and have his boys ready to bounce back.