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Penguins, Johnson knock out Islanders

| Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011

Brent Johnson already had 14 career shutouts to his credit, so losing one really wasn't a big deal.

After all, it's not every day a goalie gets a chance to land a haymaker.

Johnson knocked out the Islanders with his spectacular play between the pipes and then personally knocked out New York goalie Rick DiPietro in the final seconds of the Penguins' 3-0 victory at Consol Energy Center. Johnson won't get credit for the shutout because he was ejected, but he'll be on highlight reels forever, which isn't a bad tradeoff.

"It was like a video game or something," Penguins forward Mike Rupp said. "It was funny watching Johnny go down there and how confident he was."

In the final seconds, with the Penguins ahead 3-0, DiPietro stuck his blocker in Matt Cooke's direction while Cooke was skating past him.

This started the fisticuffs.

"I tried to avoid him," Cooke said. "He completely hit me. It caught me off guard."

Everyone was caught off guard when, a moment later, Johnson briskly skated toward New York territory, removed his helmet, and confronted DiPietro. Both goalies had their masks removed when Johnson landed a left hand to the side of DiPietro's face that knocked down the oft-injured former first round pick, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

DiPietro had a large welt on his face following the game.

"Johnny did a great job," Cooke said. "I had no idea what was going on."

Marc-Andre Fleury played the final 16 seconds and was thrilled with Johnson's fight.

"Johnny was sick," he said. "He's a righty, first of all, and he goes in as a lefty. That was awesome. He was so calm, so relaxed. It was just, BOOM! His expression never changed. It was just BOOM, and that was it."

Dan Bylsma praised Johnson's work in net but didn't sound like he wanted his goaltenders becoming regulars when it comes to dropping the gloves.

"I don't have much of a reaction," Bylsma said. "There were 16 seconds left. I don't know that we needed to go there. It starts with DiPietro trying to set a pick on Cooke."

This game will always be remembered for Johnson's knockout punch. It was, however, yet another impressive performance by the Penguins, who won their fourth straight game despite not having the services of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Tyler Kennedy and Chris Kunitz scored first-period goals and Max Talbot ended a stretch of 25 straight games without a goal when he scored a late empty-netter. It was Talbot's 50th career goal and 100th career point.

The Penguins are now only one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference.

"(Playing without Crosby and Malkin) is making everyone stronger," Cooke said. "It's making us a better team, especially when we get those guys back."

The Penguins again adopted a more conservative style, taking advantage of their stellar play on the blue line while they're two biggest stars remain out of the lineup. Kennedy's goal came at the end of a power play and Kunitz made the score 2-0 when he fired a sneaky backhand shot past DiPietro.

"It shows our structure and the kind of depth that we have here," Rupp said. "It shows our character."

Johnson wasn't forced to make many saves early, but was spectacular during the Islanders' late barrage.

And then he unleashed a barrage of his own.

"He actually played goalie tonight too," Rupp said. "And he did pretty well."

Johnny B Bad

Penguins goalie Brent Johnson discusses his fight with Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro at the end of a 3-0 victory Wednesday at Consol Energy Center:

Q: Did you leave him dazed and confused?

A: No, he was good after it. He just asked me if I was a lefty or not, and I said I wasn't.

Q: Have you had a fight before?

A: First time in the NHL. I had a couple fights in the minors, a lot in junior (hockey). It's the first time I had the opportunity — up, 3-0, and I see him come out and hit one of our guys. Not a better opportunity than that, and I jumped it. I hoped to have a good showing, and I did.

Q: Was it worth losing a shutout over?

A: Definitely — 16 seconds left, it's not a big thing about shutouts for me.

Q: Did you win the last fight you were in?

A: I fought another lefty back then, and he was a lot bigger than me. We had a pretty good square-off. I'll take (a knockout over a shutout), but I didn't intend to hurt anyone or anything. It was just a lucky punch.

Q: What did teammates say to you after seeing that fight?

A: (Laughs) Guys were excited. They didn't know I had that little mean streak in me. It was something I've kind of wanted to do for a while. Maybe it was a little bit of frustration with some things, and it all came out (last night)... maybe years of something, just pent up. I never saw Led Zeppelin, and I never will. It was just something I've been looking forward to getting an opportunity to do, and it just kind of happened.

Rob Rossi

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