Blackhawks 2, Penguins 1 (OT): Pens Salvage A Point From Antti Niemi’s Highlight Reel DVD

Pierre LeBrun has the Blackhawks at #1 on his latest NHL Power Rankings, along with the justification:

Statement win in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, and wouldn’t that be a dandy of a Stanley Cup finals matchup?

By “Statement Win,” I assume LeBrun means, “Barely pulled-off overtime win against team missing the hottest player in the NHL thanks to ridiculous performance by backup goalie?”

The Penguins (who LeBrun ranks 6th, incidentally) dominated the second period and most of the third against the Blackhawks, but after Antti Niemi’s pad save on the Letestu-to-Gonchar one-timer in the final minute of the second, it was clear this game was gonna be one of those “The other team’s goalie is playing out of his mind and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about that” games.

Even if the Pens had lost in regulation, I wouldn’t have been discouraged by their performance against Chicago — every team loses a handful of games a year to a crazy opposing goalie performance, and like a baseball team getting shut out by Roy Halladay on a great night, you just kind of have to accept it — but the Pens still tied the game in the final minute to salvage a point, and they were missing the hottest player in the NHL and likely Art Ross trophy winner, Chris Kunitz. If the Pens play this exact game against Chicago seven times — even without taking into account their missing players — they win five of them. Getting the point in the final minute was gravy.

Mark Letestu played probably the most impressive single game by any of the Pens’ many AHL callups this season, setting up numerous scoring chances and cleanly winning the faceoff that led to the game-tying goal. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Pens continue to give Letestu a chance over these next few weeks, even if Crosby and Kunitz come back; his offensive performance and random faceoff prowess made him instantly more valuable than Craig Adams and Eric Godard have been for the majority of the year, and certainly worth at least rotating him in as the go-to 13th forward in case of injury or the need to healthy scratch anyone.

I was also highly amused by the Mellon Arena fans’ reluctant on-and-off booing of Marian Hossa; it was clear that fans recognized a conscious obligation to boo him when he had the puck, but now that the Pens already got the ultimate revenge on Hossa in last year’s Cup Finals (and the fact that he now plays for the Red Wings’ archrival), the booing is so half-assed. If you’re keeping track at home, Hossa’s goal now gives him one in the last eight games against the Penguins. Dang.

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