Penguins' win streak ends at 15
Pascal Dupuis is not pleased.
He is not alone.
History, Dupuis knows, had extended an invitation to the Penguins.
A 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center halted the Penguins' march to an NHL record.
Surely, though, nobody inside the losing dressing room — the home room at this arena had not housed losers since Feb. 20, a span of 12 home games — thought the Penguins could go the rest of the way without losing.
“Hopefully,” Dupuis said.
The end of a 15-game overall winning streak, the second longest by any NHL club in 19 years, was treated by Penguins players as another source of motivation.
The narrative of this season is about redemption.
The Penguins want it after three consecutive postseason series losses to lower-seeded opponents, after winning only one playoff series since captain Sidney Crosby hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2009.
This season is about reclaiming that Cup, so a nucleus — Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury — can reclaim its reputation as big-game players.
Dupuis knows those teammates — not to mention 2009 teammates such as Chris Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy, Craig Adams, Matt Cooke and Mark Eaton — can only get what they need by staying on message.
The message after this defeat was clear.
“We weren't very good from start to finish, and we didn't play nearly well enough to win,” Adams said. “It's frustrating. I'm not really sure why, but we've got to correct it.”
The Penguins (28-9-0, 56 points) will get that opportunity at Madison Square Garden against a New York Rangers squad that is fighting to qualify for the playoffs.
Fleury will get the start — his first in four games — and his relief of Tomas Vokoun against Buffalo was “solid,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Fleury stopped each of the 16 shots he faced after the Sabres chased Vokoun, who allowed four goals on 13 shots in just over 20 minutes.
The Penguins had gone 11 games holding opponents to two or fewer goals.
After 20 minutes, the Sabres led, 2-1 — though the Penguins showed signs of jump, especially from the line of James Neal, Malkin and Jarome Iginla.
The de facto top line with Crosby out (indefinitely because of a broken jaw), Neal-Malkin-Iginla was sharp early, working the puck low — a blueprint for future success.
However, after a bad break — Iginla's broken stick on a shot — and a bad decision — defenseman Matt Niskanen's blind, backhand pass attempt in the defensive zone — led to a shorthanded goal by Buffalo's Kevin Porter, Iginla pulled the Penguins even, 1-1, with an off-side tap in on the same power play.
Stellar work by Malkin to keep possession, and a deft cross-crease pass by Kunitz, set up Iginla for his 10th goal and his first for any club other than the Calgary Flames.
That goal by Iginla was well received by the sellout crowd.
So was Vokoun after he allowed goals to Buffalo's Steve Ott, Cody Hodgson and Porter, again.
The Penguins, in fact, were given a standing ovation as time ticked off the video-board clock in the third period.
Pittsburghers realized they had witnessed something special. Some of them had seen something similar before.
The Penguins own the NHL record for most consecutive wins in a single season — 17 — set by the 1993 squad that won the Presidents' Trophy for having the best record.
Those Penguins, though, are most remembered for not winning the Cup.
So too are the Penguins, in a way. They are remembered for the Cup they have not reclaimed since 2009.
The pen, as Bylsma told them it was upon taking over a struggling reigning conference champion in February 2009, remains in their hands.
A charter plane to New York City was likely not the place for chit-chat among Penguins players late Tuesday.
There would be one topic, Dupuis predicted.
“We have a game (Wednesday) to get right back at it,” Dupuis said. “It's a divisional rival. It's the Rangers. We always get up for those games, and it's going to be good to get right back at it.”
The Penguins have not lost consecutive games since Feb. 26-28. Their response then was nearly historic.