Pascal Dupuis scored a pair of goals and added an assist and goaltender Brad Thiessen made 22 saves to remain perfect in his two NHL starts to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the falling Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
After seeing a statue of Pittsburgh legend Mario Lemieux unvelied earlier in the day, Pittsburgh won their seventh consecutive game. Their 85 points moves them four points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for the fourth spot in the East, and quietly pulls the Pens to within six points of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
In a total free fall, Toronto has now lost 12 of their last 14 contests (2-11-1) as the Leafs are currently five points out of a playoff spot. The club's postseason hopes were dealt a severe blow Tuesday night in a loss to the Boston Bruins, when high-scoring winger Joffrey Lupul, the League's sixth-leading scorer, suffered a separated shoulder and is lost to Toronto for the next 3-4 weeks.
Things got off to a good start for the visiting Leafs when, following a scoreless first period in which Toronto was outshot 11-3, Phil Kessel netted his 34th goal of the season just 1:00 into the middle stanza. As Tyler Bozak collided with Thiessen a couple of feet in front of the Pittsburgh crease, sending the Penguins' netminder sprawling, defenseman Jake Gardiner picked up the puck and sent a pass to Kessel streaking in from the left side of the net and he was able to put the puck into the empty cage.
Just over 6:30 minutes later, Clarke MacArthur sent a pass to Mikhail Grabovski who was skating in from the top of the right circle, and his shot glanced off of Carl Gunnarsson in the slot in front of the net. The Swedish blueliner's deflection past Thiessen's blocker side was his fourth goal of the season and gave the Maple Leafs a 2-0 lead.
But as they have done so often this year, Pittsburgh would mount a comeback, and it wouldn't take them long to take the first step.
Less than two minutes after Gunnarsson's marker, Dupuis deflected a Matt Niskanen point shot that beat Toronto starter Jonas Gustavsson for his 16th goal of the season and cut the Leafs' lead to 2-1 after two periods.
The Penguins were able to knot the score early in the third period, when Brooks Orpik sent a pass into the slot from the left point that Jordan Staal was able to redirect over Gustavsson and under the crossbar for his 22nd goal of the year at the 1:34 mark
The home team was able to garner its first lead of the night when Dupuis sent a weak backhander on goal, and Gustavsson somehow allowed the shot to trickle underneath his left pad and into the goal. It was Dupuis' second goal of the night and 17th of the season, and staked Pittsburgh to a 3-2 lead at 4:10 of the third period.
The Maple Leafs did get a golden opportunity late in regulation when James Neal was whistled for a holding the stick minor to put Toronto on the power play. Thiessen would come up big, making a strong lateral move to stop a one-time shot by Kessel from the left circle. He then got a bit of luck, when Bozak was staring at an open net to tie the game but instead hit the legs of teammate Tim Connolly, who was prone on the ice with his legs sticking in the air after being knocked down by a Leafs' defender.
Dupuis has been something of a good-luck charm for the Penguins, as the team improved its record to 14-1-1 in games in which he scores a goal.
In addition to his goal, Staal also dished out a helper.
Despite making 30 saves, Gustavsson's record dropped to 17-15-2.
Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer, was held without a point to snap an eight-game point scoring streak.