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Penguins Find a Way, Defeat Avalanche in Shootout

Submitted by Sports on April 7, 2014 – 9:19 amNo Comment

DENVER — Even without Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins found a way Sunday night.

Brandon Sutter scored twice in regulation, Jussi Jokinen had the lone goal in a shootout and the Penguins defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 at Pepsi Center.

Jokinen put a backhand shot over Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov in the second round of the tiebreaker, and Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all three shooters after he made 39 saves through overtime.

The Penguins played without a number of injured players, including Crosby, who missed his first game of the season because of an upper-body injury. Crosby leads the NHL with 102 points (36 goals, 66 assists).

Pittsburgh was also without key forwards Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Chris Kunitz (lower body), along with defensemen Brooks Orpik (lower body) and Olli Maatta (upper body).

“It’s a credit to our team to be able to battle without a lot of key guys,” said Fleury, who made a big glove save against Jamie McGinn with 1:45 left in overtime to keep the game tied. “Every game and practice is a chance to work on little things and make sure we’re getting ready for playoffs. To be in tight close games, it’s good to come out on top of it.”

Pittsburgh (50-24-5) had already clinched first place in the Metropolitan Division and is second in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have three games left, all at home.

“We have got to find ways to keep pushing to make sure we’re ready for playoffs,” Fleury said. “As a team, we’ve got to find ways to win.”

The loss ended the Avalanche’s winning streak at six games, but the team did gain one point. Coupled with the Chicago Blackhawks’ 4-2 win against the St. Louis Blues earlier Sunday, the Avalanche’s second-place lead on Chicago in the Central Division was shaved to two points (107-105).

Colorado (50-21-7) has one game in hand on Chicago (45-19-15) and trails the first-place St. Louis Blues (52-19-7) by four points and will play all four of its remaining games on the road.

“It was a very important point,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “It might surprise you, but I’m happy with our game. We played seven games in 12 days, our guys played a very emotional game yesterday (a 4-0 win in St. Louis) and when we saw Crosby being out of the lineup, Kunitz not in the lineup and on and on, I think it was just a normal reaction that maybe we have an easier game. I have to give them credit, they worked hard and they played a solid game. Their players had an opportunity and they took advantage of it.”

Down 2-0 after two periods, the Avalanche tied the game in the third on goals by Ryan O’Reilly at 18 seconds and Patrick Bordeleau with 3:13 to go.

“We could have quit very easily,” Roy said. “I have to say Fleury played really well for them.”

Bordeleau, who had gone 48 games without a goal, made it 2-2 when he tipped Tyson Barrie’s shot behind Fleury while standing near the right hash marks.

“It was a good shot by Tyson and I got lucky,” Bordeleau said. “To get two points would have made us feel better, but at least we got one and we’re two points ahead of Chicago, which is a good thing. That point was huge.”

McGinn set up O’Reilly with a pass from behind the net. O’Reilly was near the right post when he sent a quick shot over Fleury’s right arm.

Colorado went on its fourth power play of the game a little over a minute later and had four shots, but Fleury turned all of them aside.

Fleury made a save against O’Reilly and stopped Barrie’s point-blank stab at the rebound with 4:20 to play in the third. The Avalanche also failed to take advantage of a power play with 37.4 seconds to go in overtime.

Sutter scored two goals 3:22 apart in the second period to give the Penguins their 2-0 lead. Sutter had gone nine games without a point and 10 games without a goal.

“It was great,” Sutter said. “It’s been a long time coming. We did a great job up and down the lineup. It’s a great character builder for us and it’s a good win for us going home playing three more games before the real thing starts. It means a lot to us to go out there and play like we did, especially that second period. That was some better hockey we’ve played all year. Everyone did a great job and it’s fun playing that way.”

Sutter opened the scoring at 3:46 after he chipped the puck by Colorado’s John Mitchell in the neutral zone. Sutter skated down right wing on a 2-on-1 rush and beat Varlamov with a shot to the far side.

“The first one was kind of a broken play in the neutral zone, a bouncing puck, and I just tried to keep skating through it and managed to poke it by a guy,” Sutter said. “I felt I had a chance to shoot, didn’t really see the pass there so I just looked for a spot, fired it and it worked.”

Sutter scored again on a power play, 24 seconds after Avalanche defenseman Andre Benoit was penalized for high sticking. James Neal was behind the goal line when he fed Jokinen along the right boards for a pass that Sutter, while in a crowd, deflected between Varlamov’s pads at 7:08.

“Jokinen made a good pass,” Sutter said. “I didn’t try to do much, just tip it toward the net. It’s something he works on, and he’s good at.”

The Penguins killed off two Avalanche power plays in the first period and one more in the second.

Fleury stopped 15 shots (five on power plays) in the first period and made another 12 saves in the second.

“I don’t want to say most satisfying, but it was a good win for our team and it was a pretty darned entertaining hockey game,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “They have a lot of speed and skill. I thought they brought that to us in the first and our response in the second was maybe one of our better periods of the year. They came out and scored to start the third and we had to battle.”

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