Kunitz shootout goal lifts Penguins to victory over Blues
ST. LOUIS — James Neal isn't interested in All-Star Games. He's interested in scoring goals and winning games.
Just ask him.
Neal, who still hasn't been named to the NHL All-Star Game, scored his 27th goal of the season, and Chris Kunitz scored the game-winner in a shootout to ignite the Penguins' 3-2 victory in St. Louis on Tuesday.
Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell was named to the NHL All-Star Game on yesterday morning.
"I don't care," Neal said. "That's old news. I'm not worried about the All-Star Game. We've got a good little roll going right now. We're just worried about winning games right now."
The Penguins now find themselves on a seven-game winning streak, their longest since ripping off 12 straight last season. This game marks the unofficial end of the first half of the season, as the Penguins won't play until next Tuesday, when they host the Maple Leafs. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury put on a remarkable show in overtime, making five brilliant saves.
"He was awesome," right wing Pascal Dupuis said. "Flower got us the two points."
Neal's contributions didn't hurt.
The right wing, who doesn't claim to use the all-star snub as motivation, finished the first half on quite a hot streak. He has now produced six goals and five assists during the Penguins' winning streak. Neal scored on the power play in the second period, when defenseman Paul Martin dug out a puck behind the net and centered a pass to Neal in the slot. He did not rest, firing a shot between goaltender Brian Elliott's legs.
The goal was the 100th of Neal's four-year career. His 27 goals tie the career-high he set two years ago in Dallas.
"We thought he was an all-star when they named the team (the first time)," coach Dan Bylsma said. "When you're having that kind of season and scoring that many goals, he certainly deserves to be in the all-star category."
There is still a chance Neal could be named an all-star. Washington's Alex Ovechkin opted against traveling to Ottawa this weekend for the all-star festivities because he is currently under suspension, which leaves a spot open. The NHL still had not named his replacement by the time yesterday's game ended.
"He is impressive," Dupuis said. "He's going out there with a purpose now to prove people wrong."
Fleury was pretty impressive, too.
He was beaten twice on breakaways by Patrik Berglund, as St. Louis evened the game. However, Fleury made a number of remarkable, sprawling saves during overtime. The Penguins were shorthanded during the final 1:19 of regulation and the first 41 seconds of overtime with left wing Matt Cooke in the penalty box for boarding.
But Fleury was there to make three left leg saves on backdoor plays.
"Great game," Fleury said. "Nice to get a win."
His teammates weren't so composed about his performance.
"He was just unbelievable tonight," defenseman Deryk Engelland said. "He won us that game in overtime."
Neal was pretty good, too.
On a night when center Evgeni Malkin's scoring streak stopped at six games, the Penguins kept winning.
"Neal has to be one of the next guys in line to be on that team," Engelland said. "He's playing great."
They have moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a 28-17-4 (60 points) record.
"Great way to go into the break," center Dustin Jeffrey said. "This win feels good."
Penguins, 1-0 (3:26): D Paul Martin dug a puck out from behind the net and found RW James Neal in the slot. Neal fired a shot between goalie Brian Elliott's legs.
Penguins, 2-0 (12:16): D Deryk Engelland fired a shot from the right point, and LW Steve Sullivan knocked it out of midair and past Elliott.
Blues, 2-1 (15:16): A bad pass by LW Matt Cooke ignited a turnover, and C Patrik Berglund found himself on a breakaway a moment later and beat G Marc-Andre Fleury to the stick side.
Blues, 2-2 (5:04): Berglund beat Fleury to the stick side on a penalty shot.