Pens blow big lead, pull out shootout win

| Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DETROIT -- Bumps in the road in the Motor City were just another obstacle for these Penguins.

"Every one of these guys would lay down in traffic for one another," goalie Brent Johnson said Monday night after a 5-4 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings at Jose Louis Arena.

Seriously, what is a blown four-goal lead to this team?

"Just another obstacle," winger Chris Kunitz said. "We've had a lot of them, so maybe we're used to it."

Winger James Neal scored the lone shootout goal to help the Penguins earn the rarest of victories.

It wasn't just a win in this building, where they've had some highs (Games 5 and 7 of the 2008 and 2009 Stanley Cup Final series, respectively); but where they have also lost six times over the last three years.

It was winning in this building after blowing a huge lead, after learning before the game that another one of their leaders, winger Matt Cooke, would miss significant time.

Cooke has been suspended through Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs for his elbow to the head of New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in a home loss Sunday afternoon.

The Penguins (42-23-8, 92 points) might hold home ice in that first playoff round -- a seemingly improbable possibility given the 296 man-games they had lost to injury before this win, including the combined services of superstar centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the past two months.

Survival this season has required role players to raise their level of play, and often a couple of standout performances each night.

This 20th road victory was brought to the Penguins by the number 37 -- the saves by Michigan-native Johnson.

Two goals by winger Pascal Dupuis, his first markers in 10 games, and one apiece from Kunitz and Tyler Kennedy -- a duo that has combined for 39 markers -- had staked the Penguins a 4-0 lead by 13:16 of the second period.

However, the absence of Cooke -- a top penalty killer, a point often overlooked because of his dirty-player-rep -- was evident in the third period, where two of the Red Wings' three goals were scored on the power play.

Winger Dan Cleary and center Mike Modano scored within 2:21 of each other to pull the Red Wings even, 4-4. A late second-period goal by stud center Henrik Zetterberg and an early third-period marker by fellow center Valtteri Filppula also contributed to a rousing comeback by Detroit.

The Penguins were outshot, 14-5, in the third.

In fact, only a suave save by Johnson late in regulation -- with his club on a power play, but hoping for the best as the Red Wings broke in on a 2-on-1 -- preserved a point.

Red Wings center Darren Helm couldn't convert that rush into a go-ahead score, one that might have totally deflated a Penguins squad that has absorbed enough emotional blows through the opening three months of 2011 to deflate any club.

"They were humming," Johnson said of the Red Wings, adding that he changed his goalie glove before the shootout -- where he pitched a shutout over three rounds.

Actually, the Red Wings appeared to be running the Penguins into a breaking point on the season.

"I wouldn't assume so," Kunitz said.

Notes: Crosby skated in Pittsburgh, but there remains no timetable for his return to full practice. ... Defenseman Brooks Orpik is expected to resume practicing with teammates next week. ... Center Mark Letestu missed a second straight game because of an upper-body injury.

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