After beginning the month of March with an embarrassing 5-1 loss at Solider Field, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 tonight to end the month with authority.
"I thought this was one of our most physical games of the year, one of our most hard-fought," Pens coach Dan Bylsma would say after the game. "We remember a snowy night in Chicago where they really took it to us. We wanted to respond."
Chief among this was the crushing hit that Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik laid on Chicago captain Jonathan Toews in the second period. Toews left the game and did not return with what was called an upper-body injury.
Officially the hits were Pittsburgh 39, Chicago 21. Usually when a team has to do a lot of hitting, it's because they don't have the puck and are trying to get it back. This was probably the case for the Pens for much of the night, especially for the latter half of the second period and early in the third when the Blackhawks dominated possession and shot attempts.
Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury proved more than capable, stopping 25 of 26 shots on the night and making several big-time stops as well.
The win was also contingent on quick strike scoring again. In the first period James Neal beat Corey Crawford and then Lee Stempniak struck 21 seconds later. Sheldon Brookbank would beat Fleury (after Orpik and another player provided a screen) in the second period. Sidney Crosby would cap the scoring with a pair of goals in the third period- the first on a two-on-one and then icing the game with an empty net goal.
A few more thoughts on the win:
- Pens are now 30-3-2 when leading after two periods.
Beau Bennett continues to be a breath of fresh air- an assist, +2, 2 shots on goal, 3 hits on the night.
- Per Pens PR, tonight marks regular season win 249 for Dan Bylsma's career. If (read: when) he hits 250 this season, that will be the quickest coach to that milestone in NHL history.
- The last time Neal scored an even strength goal, was the last game against Chicago. (Hat-tip: Brent Seabrook).
- Sidney Crosby: 8 shots on goal for the night. Other 17 Pittsburgh Penguins not named Sidney Crosby: 19 shots on goal on the night.
- Crosby was also a beast in the faceoff circle, winning 69% of his 26 faceoffs.
- Only one player in the entire league (Ryan Getzlaf) is within 20 points on the season of Crosby. And he's 18 back.
- Which is the 4th bullet point to just say that people really shouldn't over-think who the MVP is this season.
The Pens were way out-Corsi'd but hung tough, thanks to Fleury, the quick goals early and then Crosby mopped up for the win in the third period. It's probably not a formula to beat a good team every single night, but on this night it was enough to beat the defending Stanley Cup champs.
And that ain't nothin. Go Pens.