TORONTO – The Pittsburgh Penguins might have got the break they needed to pull out of a slump.
Sergei Gonchar scored two goals during a strange three-minute sequence that also saw a Maple Leafs penalty shot wiped out as the Penguins defeated Toronto 4-1 on Saturday.
It was just the second victory in eight games for the defending Stanley Cup champions, who held a players-only meeting following its most recent loss on Thursday night. The team thought it had played well in some of the recent defeats and was waiting for things to start going its way.
That’s exactly what happened in Toronto.
“That was kind of a game-changer for sure with the way things happened,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “We certainly built off that and from there on in, I thought we carried the play.”
The key sequence happened just past the midway point of a 1-1 game. With the Penguins on a power play, Gonchar scored a goal that went undetected in real time and then tripped Alexei Ponikarovsky on a breakaway roughly 15 seconds later – causing the referee to signal for a Leafs penalty shot.
However, video review showed that Gonchar had scored prior to hauling down the Toronto forward so the time clock was turned back to 14:44 and the penalty shot became a hooking penalty because two goals can’t be scored at the same time.
“That was weird,” said Crosby.
Added Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury: “I was a little confused when all that happened.”
Even though the Leafs were made aware that the sequence was called correctly under the NHL’s casebook, coach Ron Wilson believes the ruling is based on “flawed logic.”
“I understand you can’t have two goals on one play, but why not?” said Wilson. “Why can’t you?”
As if that wasn’t strange enough, Gonchar scored his second goal of the night shortly after stepping out of the penalty box to give Pittsburgh an insurmountable 3-1 lead.
The veteran defenceman was playing his first game since taking a puck off the knee in New Jersey on Dec. 30. He made an immediate impact.
“It was a pretty big effort back there from our blue-line and Gonch is a big part of that,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “It’s nice to have that confident guy back there, a leader back there.”
Crosby and Bill Guerin had the other goals for Pittsburgh (28-17-1), which kicked off a five-game road trip that will see it travel through Western Canada. Fleury stopped 42 shots.
Matt Stajan replied for the Maple Leafs (15-22-9), who spoiled a pretty good effort from goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
Toronto is mired in a slump of its own, having gone 3-8-2 in its last 13 games. It’s averaging just two goals a game during a stretch that has coincided with a drought for Phil Kessel, who has scored just once in his last 12.
Wilson ripped into his team earlier this week, but had no complaints after this one.
“It was our fourth game in five nights, and they came in rested,” he said. “There was nothing wrong with our effort, I was happy with our energy level. The players emptied the tank, they gave it all they had on the ice.”
Kessel had a couple quality opportunities on Saturday, but couldn’t solve Fleury. No play better highlighted the Leafs scoring woes than when Rickard Wallin – still looking for his first goal of the season – missed a completely empty net in the last minute of the second period.
Crosby certainly didn’t miss early in the third when he scored his 27th of the season with a highlight-reel move. He beat Tomas Kaberle 1-on-1 before tipping the puck through Gustavsson’s legs with one hand on his stick at 3:49.
“I just tried to get my stick on it,” said Crosby. “It was kind of a broken play.”
The Penguins captain also made a nice play on the team’s opening goal. He spun out of the corner and delivered a perfect backhand pass that went in off Guerin’s skate at 7:24 of the first period.
Stajan was the lone Leaf to get a puck behind Fleury. He one-timed a Kessel pass over the Penguins goalie on a power play just before the first intermission.
The Pittsburgh players were in good spirits as they prepared to move on to Minnesota, where they’ll play on Monday. They’ve all tried to stay calm during the recent slide, but were relieved to see something finally go their way.
“It’s the first time it’s happened in my life,” said Gonchar. “I talked to the guys, they were saying the same thing. I’ve never seen it before and I’m not sure if we’ll see it again.”
Notes: Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury … Eric Godard and Martin Skoula were scratched for the Penguins … Pittsburgh defenceman Brooks Orpik left midway through the game with an undisclosed injury … Crosby has 12 goals and 30 points in 19 career games against the Maple Leafs … Stajan is three goals short of matching his career-high of 16 … Don VanMassenhoven was honoured before officiating his 1,000th career game … The Leafs are 0-22-5 when trailing after 40 minutes this season … Announced attendance was 19,567 – the largest crowd since opening night.