The Pittsburgh Penguins scored a late 3rd period goal to break a 0-0 tie and then grabbed an empty netter to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 on Tuesday night. It was a triumphant return to the ice for Captain Sidney Crosby who assisted on the game-winner after missing 21-games to a high ankle sprain. Marc-Andre Fleury turned aside 35-shots, including a Vinny Lecavalier breakaway, to record his 10th career shutout and put a punctuation mark on his second start (and win) since returning from injury. The win propels the Penguins into sole posession of the Eastern Conference lead, 1-point ahead of the New Jersey Devils who also won on Tuesday.
Through the first 2-periods, the Penguins were outshot 24-10 and failed to convert on 2-power play chances. They managed to kill off their only penalty of the game, a 1st-period interference call to Brooks Orpik. Marc-Andre Fleury was ready for the task, however, stopping everything that came his way and playing a very strong positional game. On the other end of the ice, Lightning goaltender Mike Smith stood tall in net as well, stopping breakaways on both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby and a penalty shot by Petr Sykora. Jordan Staal left the game in the 2nd period with an apparent bruised rib injury after he fell awkwardly and was then run into by a Tampa Bay player.
In the 3rd period, the Penguins were late to get back on the ice, trailing the coaching staff by a couple of minutes. When they did come out, the Penguins played a much stronger offensive game, outshooting the Lightning 13-11 in the period. The Penguins finally solved Smith at 17:13 as Sidney Crosby made a cross-crease pass to Max Talbot. The puck deflected off from a Lightning defender’s skate, but Talbot was able to gather it in and slide it past the outstretched leg of Smith for the goal. Pascal Dupuis picked up the other assist on the play. With 1:10 left to go in the period, the Lightning pulled their goaltender for the extra man. Sidney Crosby just missed a backhander empty net goal from the blue line, but with 5-seconds left on the clock, Evgeni Malkin took a pass from Maxime Talbot and skated it all the way into the empty net to end the game 2-0.
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Sidney Crosby skated 23-shifts in the game and had 22:07 of ice time in his first game back. All in all, he played a very strong game. One could sense that he was holding back just a bit from his normal 120%, but certainly gave 100%+. I imagine after a few games, he will likely be unstoppable once again. Marc-Andre Fleury picked up the game’s #1 star, and Maxime Talbot with a goal and assist picked up the 3rd star.
The Penguins continue their road trip on Thursday as they travel to Sunrise, Florida, to take on the Florida Panthers.