PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins honoured their past Wednesday, unveiling a bronze statue outside Consol Energy Center showcasing the singular talents of Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.
Then the Penguins went out and showed the present looks pretty good, too.
Pascal Dupuis scored twice and had an assist, and the Pittsburgh rallied to beat the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 for their seventh straight victory.
“The way we’ve been playing, we feel like we can come back in every game and we proved it again tonight,” Dupuis said.
Jordan Staal added a goal and an assist to extend his points streak to a career-best six games, and rookie Brad Thiessen stopped 22 shots for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of its last 12 home games.
With Lemieux watching from the owner’s box a few hours after the 4,700-pound bronze statue showing him split a pair of defenders during a 1988 game was unveiled, Pittsburgh strengthened its hold on fourth-place in the Eastern Conference by once again roaring back against the Maple Leafs.
On Jan. 31, the Penguins scored three goals in the third period on their way to a shootout victory over Toronto, the tying goal coming on a deflection off Evgeni Malkin’s shoulder in the final seconds of regulation.
There were no such heroics necessary this time thanks to Dupuis, who let a handful of chances get away in a victory at Colorado last weekend. He didn’t miss while beating Toronto’s Jonas Gustavsson for his first multiple-goal game in nearly a year.
“In Colorado I think he had about five breakaways,” Staal said. “He’s creating a lot of opportunities.”
Phil Kessel and Carl Gunnarsson scored for Toronto. The Maple Leafs let an early two-goal lead slip away while falling to 1-2 since Randy Carlyle took over as coach following Ron Wilson’s firing.
Carlyle was supposed to rejuvenate a team that has fallen to the fringe of the playoff picture over the last month.
Toronto beat Montreal on Saturday night in his first game behind the bench, but there has been no bounce. The Maple Leafs have lost six of seven and are five points behind eighth-place Winnipeg in the playoff race.
Carlyle scratched defenceman Joffrey Lupul and winger Colby Armstrong after they went down with injuries in a 5-4 loss to Boston on Tuesday. The Maple Leafs then lost defenceman Cody Franson and winger Mike Brown in the first period on Wednesday.
“We showed signs of enthusiasm and stuck with our gameplan,” Carlyle said. “I thought our work ethic was stronger and but we ran out of bodies again tonight.”
Pittsburgh has no such worries, riding goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the line of Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz to the inside track for home ice in the opening round of the playoffs.
Fleury received an unexpected night off and while the Maple Leafs kept Malkin—tied for the NHL scoring lead with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos—in check, the trio of Dupuis, Staal and Steve Sullivan filled in capably.
“I think tonight with that line they really drove our team to the next level,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Thiessen wasn’t bad either, another promising sign as the Penguins search for a reliable backup. Veteran Brent Johnson has struggled all season and is dealing with an undisclosed injury.
Enter Thiessen, who was solid in his NHL debut against Columbus on Feb. 26, stopping 22 shots to pick up his first career victory, though he was quick to credit Pittsburgh’s defence after beating the woeful Blue Jackets.
While the Penguins again limited the number of chances Thiessen faced, he was stellar during the third period, making a series of saves on a late Toronto power play to extend the NHL’s longest active winning streak.
“I thought we did a really good job controlling the play early,” Thiessen said. “In the third they got some shots and we did the job.”
Thiessen’s best work came during a flurry on a Toronto power play in which he slid across to deny a one-timer by Kessel.
“I don’t think we had the bounces at the end there,” Gunnarsson said. “We had one or two chances with a wide open net and they got a stick or a leg on it.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh centre Sidney Crosby skated Wednesday morning. The former MVP missed his 37th straight game because of concussion-like symptoms but has been cleared for contact and could return to the ice as early as next week. … The Penguins continue their four-game homestand on Friday night against Florida. The Maple Leafs are off until Saturday, when they host Philadelphia. … Staal has 15 points in 12 games since his return from a knee injury.