The National Hockey League and its fans got a taste of playoff hockey Tuesday night when two of the Eastern Conference juggernauts squared off in a possible future playoff matchup. Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal for Pittsburgh Penguins as they shut out the Montreal Canadiens 1-0.
The Penguins (26-8-0) extended their winning streak to 13 games and seemed to have truly set themselves apart in the East as they now hold the no. 1 seed by a seven point margin.
Crosby’s 15th goal of the season came at 13:19 of the second period and proved to be the x-factor in the game despite being outshot by Montreal 37-25. Crosby took a long pass from Chris Kunitz through the neutral zone as he skated down the right wing and wristed a shot past goaltender Carey Price.
“They were playing a pretty good game and generated a lot of chances but [Fleury] did a great job keeping us in it but we were able to get that first [goal] to get us going a bit,” Crosby said in his post-game interview with ROOT Sports’ Dan Potash.
With under a minute left in the second period, Marc-Andre Fleury was run over by teammate Tyler Kennedy in the crease after Kennedy was pushed by Brian Gionta going to the net. The sellout crowd at the Consol Energy Center was silenced while the Penguins’ goaltender remained down on the ice for a few minutes after the whistle.
However, Fleury finished what was left of the second period but did not return for the third and was replaced by Tomas Vokoun.
Tempers flared from that point on as Matt Cooke attempted to engage with the Canadiens’ captain Gionta, who refused to drop the gloves just as the third period began.
“Our goalie goes down, we feel it’s a shove that forces ‘TK’ to go into him,” Cooke said in the post-game. “Regardless of what the result is, we’re a team, we’re a unit in here and we’re going to send a message that we’re not going to just stand by the waste side as things like that happen.”
Vokoun helped secure the shutout making 12 saves in the victory.
“As a goalie you have to be ready all the time,” Vokoun said. “I’ve played long enough, I know anything could happen any second even if you’re not scheduled to play that night.”
Head Coach Dan Bylsma indicated after the game that Fleury’s status is unknown at this point and will continue to be evaluated.
Bylsma was also questioned on the play by Gionta which knocked Fleury out of the game and simply stated “that was clear about what happened and we took exception to it.”
Tonight also marked the debut of the newly acquired Brenden Morrow who logged 12:55 and skated on the second line with Brandon Sutter and former teammate in Dallas, James Neal.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Morrow said. “It kind of felt like a playoff game to be honest, every shift mattered, you’re up on your feet every time there’s a scoring chance, it’s a fun feeling.”
Pittsburgh will continue their five-game home stand Thursday night against the surprising Winnipeg Jets who lead the Southeast division and rank third in the East.
Ekiert’s three stars:
3- Carey Price; G, Canadiens- 24 saves
2- Marc-Andre Fleury & Tomas Vokoun; G’s, Penguins- 37 saves combined in shutout
1- Sidney Crosby; C, Penguins- GW Goal
Game Notes: The Penguins played without Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) once again and Douglas Murray was a healthy scratch, but both look to play with the team Thursday against Winnipeg; Montreal outshot Pittsburgh 25-12 through two periods; Kris Letang returned to the lineup for the Penguins after missing the last three games with a lower-body injury.