Penguins steal one from Hurricanes in shootout victory

| Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012

The Evgeni Malkin Show was in peak form again, but credit these two points to Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

On a night when the Penguins were sloppy in their end, Fleury made a number of spectacular saves during a 2-1 shootout victory Tuesday over the Carolina Hurricanes.

He stopped Carolina center Eric Staal's shootout attempt to finish the game, and the contest never would have reached extra time if not for Fleury's performance. On three occasions, including Jussi Jokinen's opportunity with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third period, the Hurricanes found themselves alone with the puck in front of Fleury.

He denied them each time while stopping 25 of 26 shots.

"That's why he's paid what he is," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "He's a big part of the team. Sometimes when he's not playing well, we've got to pick him up. And vice versa."

Last night was clearly vice versa.

The Penguins' shutdown defensive pair Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin endured a rough first period and was on the ice when Carolina defenseman Jamie McBain scored the game's first goal.

Fleury, though, was perfect the remainder of the way and made it clear that this was an important victory. After two feel-good wins in Florida, the Penguins didn't want to fall to one of three teams that is 14th in the Eastern Conference. They've now won three straight following a six-game losing skid.

"Definitely a nice win," Fleury said. "And we haven't won at home in a while. We just need to keep it rolling right now."

Two big hits dictated the rest of the game. One of those hits is Malkin himself, who temporarily moved into a tie for the league lead with 52 points. He evened the game late in the first period on a shot from a nearly impossible angle that Malkin managed to lift over Carolina goalie Cam Ward's shoulder.

Malkin also scored in the shootout. Still three weeks shy of the one-year anniversary of the night Malkin tore his ACL and MCL, he is showing no effects of the injury.

"Everyone you talk to says an ACL takes you 12 months to recover," said Orpik, who noted this is the best he has seen Malkin play since the 2009 Eastern Conference finals against Carolina.

"If this isn't 100 percent form, that's pretty scary."

Something scary also happened early in the third period when Orpik belted Carolina star Jeff Skinner with what appeared to be a clean body check. Skinner, who recently missed a month with a concussion, was only playing in his second game since returning from the injury and briefly left the game.

A referee admitted following the game that Orpik did nothing illegal.

"He apologized after," said Orpik, who appreciated the gesture. "It happens quick. Tough call for him. It's tough to fault those guys when it happens at real time. They're just trying to do the right thing."

Following Fleury's save on Jokinen in the final second and a fairly uneventful overtime, Fleury and Malkin continued to perform in the shootout. Right wing James Neal put the game away with a shootout goal and nicely summarized which two players were most responsible for this victory.

"Great job by Flower," Neal said, "and a nice goal by Geno."

Scoring breakdown

First period

Hurricanes, 1-0 (2:11): D Jamie McBain snuck in from the right point, and with D Zbynek Michalek and D Paul Martin back on their heels, found himself alone in the slot and beat G Marc-Andre Fleury.

Penguins, 1-1 (18:38): C Evgeni Malkin swiped a puck away from C Eric Staal, and then, from a bad angle, flicked a wrist shot to the short side over G Cam Ward's left shoulder.

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