Kunitz overtime goal gives Penguins 2-1 series lead
UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Marc-Andre Fleury did not want to go there.
The Penguins had won Game 3 of a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the New York Islanders on left winger Chris Kunitz's overtime goal Sunday afternoon.
They had taken a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
They had avoided any reason to feel pressure heading into Game 4 on Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum.
“We didn't (lose), and they didn't (win),” Fleury said. “So let's not go there.”
There, of course, is recent history that hovers over the Penguins — specifically a nucleus that includes captain Sidney Crosby, his fellow former MVP/scoring champion center Evgeni Malkin, coach Dan Bylsma, general manager Ray Shero and Fleury, the franchise goalie.
Those men had the Penguins favored to reach the Stanley Cup final last year, too. Blown leads and poor play led to a 3-0 hole in a series that the Philadelphia Flyers ultimately won in six games.
Those men had the Penguins as the defending champions in 2010. Then uncharacteristic gaffes helped the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens turn a 3-2 series deficit into a seven-game dethroning.
Another seven-game loss, to Tampa Bay in a series that Crosby and Malkin missed, was wedged between the disappointing defeats to Montreal and Philadelphia.
“We can't expect certain things to go away,” defenseman Paul Martin said.
The Penguins, favored since the NHL lockout ended in January to reclaim the Cup they won in 2009, can expect extreme scrutiny of every win and loss this postseason.
“For sure, and partly that's from everyone else,” Martin added. “It's, ‘Look at who the Penguins picked up (before the NHL trade deadline), look at how good they are.' Obviously, we have a lot of good players, and we put up a lot of wins during the regular season, but that doesn't mean anything.”
Having Crosby and Malkin healthy — relatively, as Crosby is recovering from a broken jaw and Malkin is dealing with a sore left shoulder — doesn't mean anything.
Having dressed for Game 3 nine players who also were dressed for that victorious Game 7 of the Cup Final at Detroit four years ago doesn't mean anything.
Having wingers Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, each a former team captain who waived a no-trade clause in his contract to join the Penguins, doesn't mean anything.
Also something that meant nothing Sunday: Protecting a lead.
The Islanders were ahead, 2-0, before Iginla (5 on 3) and Kunitz pulled the Penguins even with power-play goals, and right winger Pascal Dupuis' third of the playoffs staked his club a lead late in the first period.
Malkin then found defenseman Douglas Murray, whose first goal in 35 playoff games pushed the Penguins to a 4-2 lead that they carried into the final period.
Two of the Islanders' most skilled forwards, right winger Kyle Okposo and center John Tavares, erased that deficit in a span of about five minutes late in regulation.
Okposo's shorthanded goal stands as the only blemish of the series for a Penguins power play that has gone 6 for 13 (46.2 percent).
Actually, the Islanders probably can find comfort in knowing that they are outscoring the Penguins at 5-on-5 play over the past two games, 6-4.
“We're up (in the series), 2-1, yes, but at the same time, the power play has saved us,” Dupuis said.
So, too, has this history that hovers, Fleury said.
Champions are not preordained. Playoff wins — a game, let alone a series — are not easily obtained.
The Penguins are not perfect.
They are, however, two wins closer to their stated goal of four playoff victories.
“It's big,” Fleury said. “It's a win. That's what matters.
“We have guys who have experiences, a lot of guys who have been through a lot. That's what pays off for us in these playoffs.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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