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Pens' winning streak not about victories

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 11:22 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins center Sidney Crosby celebrates after his first goal of the first period against the Lightning on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik looks at the blade of his stick during the Bruins game Sunday, March 17, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

As Brooks Orpik recalls, this Penguins' winning streak started lousy.

“Nobody felt good about” a 7-6 victory at Montreal on March 2, said Orpik, the longest-tenured Penguin.

“We had a team meeting,” he said. “It was pretty open: ‘Anyone who has anything to say, say it.' ”

Two players — Orpik and other teammates refused to identify who — carried the forum. Their message was simple: The Penguins needed to learn how to win.

They will try to do that for a 12th consecutive time Sunday night against the Philadelphia Flyers at Consol Energy Center.

Winning and learning how to win are two vastly different concepts for a squad that knows something about victory streaks.

Eleven players on the current roster were on the ice at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009, the night the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. All but one of them — defenseman Mark Eaton, who rejoined the club this season — were part of winning streaks that hit double digits the past two regular seasons.

Both seasons ended with first-round playoff losses.

“We found out the hard way that if you don't finish the season strong, it has a direct carryover,” said Orpik, citing the Penguins' poor overall defensive play in the weeks leading to last season's opening-round elimination against the Flyers.

The Penguins went 7-3-0 to close last regular season. Each victory was by multiple goals. However, while the Penguins were winning, they weren't playing playoff hockey, Orpik said.

Six of the Penguins' 11 consecutive wins have come by one goal in regulation, and the latest — a 4-2 victory at the New York Islanders on Friday — featured a last-second empty-netter from right winger Pascal Dupuis.

The Penguins have trailed in eight of 11 games during this streak.

Sidney Crosby has relished the opportunity to play in tight games. He remembered winning a lot of tight games four years ago, including Games 6 and 7 of the Final.

There is another similarity between the Cup Penguins and this squad. Players are influenced by a need to make up for what was lost.

Four years ago, players could not shake the image from the previous season of Detroit players skating on the Mellon Arena ice with the Cup. As this season has progressed, players still are thinking about shaking the Flyers' hands after the Cup favorites lasted all of six games in the playoffs.

“When you lose in a way that leaves that bad taste in your mouth, you try and reflect on what you did wrong, how you fix it, how you go forward,” left winger Chris Kunitz said.

That process started during the lockout. Role players such as Joe Vitale, Deryk Engelland and Matt Niskanen joined stars like Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury and veteran leaders such as Dupuis, Kunitz, Orpik, Craig Adams and Matt Cooke for organized workouts.

Like those workouts, this season's 48 games are about establishing a winning identity that leads to a silver lining for the cloud that hovers from last spring, Crosby said.

This streak — and the final 16 games — are about learning how to win the 16 games required to make May and June memorable for the right reasons.

“We have some specific things we want to make sure we are better at and improve on from last year,” Crosby said. “It isn't something that has happened overnight, but it's something that's been driven home.”

Staff writer Josh Yohe contributed. Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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