The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t used to getting pushed around.
Turns out, they don’t like it.
After letting the youthful Colorado Avalanche outplay them for 30 minutes on Tuesday night, the Penguins decided they had seen enough and erupted for five unanswered goals in a 6-3 victory.
”We were fortunate,” coach Dan Bylsma said. ”We didn’t play well for 30 minutes, 25 minutes and we were able to rally and come back.”
James Neal, as he has done all season, led the way, notching a goal and two assists to extend his streak at home. Neal has at least one goal in each of the Penguins eight games in Pittsburgh.
”I’m just going to let it happen,” Neal said with a laugh. ”I don’t want to talk about it.”
Neither do the Avalanche, who let an early 3-1 lead slip away while falling to an Eastern Conference opponent for the first time this season.
”It was one of those things where every time we felt like we were going to get some momentum back we didn’t get the bounce we needed or the call we needed,” Colorado’s Matt Duchene said, ”and it went back the other way and they scored.”
And scored. And scored.
Neal, Brooks Orpik, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang all scored within an 11-minute stretch to start the third against goalie Semyon Varlamov as the Penguins turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 runaway.
Pittsburgh credited the burst to some spirited words from Arron Asham, who gave a fiery speech between the second and third periods.
”It was a great job by Asham,” Malkin said. ”He stood up and talked with the guys.”
Asham provided the spark that lifted Pittsburgh into a tie with Chicago for the most points in the NHL with 25 through 18 games. Not bad for a club that is still playing without captain Sidney Crosby.
The 2007 NHL MVP is continuing his recovery from a pair of concussions sustained 10 months ago. Speculation has ramped up in the last two weeks that Crosby is inching closer to his highly anticipated return, though he has kept mum on the subject.
Crosby’s teammates are hardly bothered by the constant speculation. Pittsburgh is 34-17-8 in the 59 regular-season games since Crosby last played in January and have roared out of the gate this season behind an offense that has found an identity even without him.
The attack was buoyed on Tuesday by forward Tyler Kennedy, who assisted Jordan Staal’s first-period goal in his first game since missing a month with a concussion. Marc-Andre Fleury shook off a rocky first period to finish with 24 saves.
”We didn’t come out with what we thought was our best game but I think we stuck with it and we kept playing,” Bylsma said. ”We turned the tide halfway through the game.”
Colorado had been 5-0 against Eastern Conference foes, and they appeared to be on their way to another win after lighting up Fleury in the opening 20 minutes. Duchene, Jay McClement and David Jones all scored first-period goals to stake the Avalanche to a quick 3-1 lead.
The prettiest goal came courtesy of a nifty play by the 20-year-old Duchene, who took a pass from Paul Stastny and tipped the puck between his legs to himself before easily slipping the puck into the net.
Dupuis pulled Pittsburgh within 3-2 midway through the second, and the Penguins were just warming up.
Orpik tied it at 3 just over a minute into the third when his shot from the point deflected off a Colorado player and past Varlamov, who finished with 27 saves, but only eight on 12 shots in the third.
Malkin put Pittsburgh in front less than 4 minutes later, deking his way past Varlamov.
Neal’s 12th goal of the season gave the Penguins some cushion with his power-play tally on a night he extended his point streak to seven games. Letang later added his first even-strength goal in nearly a year on a backhand as Pittsburgh needed less than 11 minutes to turn a 3-2 hole into a 6-3 lead.
The young and quickly improving Avalanche have struggled at home – winning two of eight there – but are growing up on the road. Colorado began the night tied for the league lead in road wins (six) and road points (13).
The Avalanche have done it with a sizzling power play that is tops in the NHL. Colorado came in scoring 41 percent of the time with the man advantage on the road. The Avalanche went 0-for-2 against the league’s best penalty-killing team and couldn’t keep up with the Penguins in the third.
”The first 30 minutes we came out and played to our identity as a team,” Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. ”After that, you have to give Pittsburgh credit, they made a hard push.”
Notes: Colorado’s Milan Hejduk had an assist in his first game since being promoted to captain on Monday. … Fleury is unbeaten in regulation in his last eight games (7-0-1). … Fleury has stopped all 41 shots he has faced on the penalty kill this season. … The Penguins begin a two-game road trip in Tampa on Thursday. The Avalanche will play in Minnesota on Thursday before starting an eight-game homestand.