Penguins unable to stop Kane, Blackhawks despite Fleury’s strong game
CHICAGO — A 25-save performance Wednesday night isn’t going to ease every worry on Marc-Andre Fleury’s mind.
He’s still not going to get the playing time he wants or has been accustomed to. The Penguins are still going to have to make a goaltending move of some sort before June’s expansion draft.
Heck, he didn’t even win the game. Richard Panik broke a second-period tie with a highlight-reel goal, and Patrick Kane added a hat trick as the Chicago Blackhawks won 4-1 to hand the Penguins a pair of losses on a two-game road trip.
But the fact he didn’t get traded before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. deadline, and the fact he responded to that news with an effort that was spectacular at times, well, it eased some of the short-term tension in Fleury’s life.
“It’s been a little bit of a weird two weeks,” he said. “A little bit stressful. I’m glad it’s over and we’re done with it.
“I guess I get to hang out with these guys again for a little while and have another shot at going far in the playoffs.”
The Fleury storyline notwithstanding, Wednesday’s game was a wildly entertaining showdown between two of the most skilled teams in the league.
In the second period, one goal topped the next on the artistic merit scale.
Chicago struck first when rookie Nick Schmaltz deftly picked the pocket of Jake Guentzel on a hustling backcheck and started a two-on-one that ended with a sizzling Kane wrister between Fleury’s pads.
The Penguins answered when Ron Hainsey threaded a pass from the left half-wall through to Scott Wilson skating up the right wing, and he lifted a backhand shot over goalie Scott Darling and under the crossbar.
Chicago took the lead for good on the prettiest goal of them all. Panik grabbed a failed clearing attempt at the top of the left faceoff circle, played the puck off his own skate and between his legs to get around Evgeni Malkin, then ripped a shot past Fleury’s blocker in the final minute of the second period.
Darling made a point-blank glove save on Matt Cullen to stop the Penguins’ best chance to tie about five minutes into the third. Then Kane tacked on a pair of goals late to stop any thoughts of a comeback, and the Penguins lost back-to-back games in regulation for the third time this season.
It was nowhere near the result the Penguins wanted, but with a quick transition game and a dogged pursuit of the puck, it was pretty close to the style coach Mike Sullivan wants to see out of his team.
“I really liked our compete on the puck,” Sullivan said. “I thought we had some zone time. I think we can play a little bit smarter in some of the areas of the rink where we gave up a couple of odd-man rushes. We’re not going to play a perfect game every night, but I thought we had a heightened intensity.”
Fleury handled most of those odd-man rushes. In the second period, he made a particularly memorable stop, turning back a Ryan Hartman one-timer from the left faceoff dot and diving back to his left to stop a Brent Seabrook rebound bid.
It was classic Fleury, which is something Sidney Crosby won’t mind watching for a few more months.
“He was really good in there, made some big saves,” Crosby said. “They’ve got some talented guys that can move the puck, and he had to move from side to side fairly often to make some big saves. I was happy to see him have a great performance like that. To have him still around, there was a lot of speculation. To see that he’s still here, we’re happy and he played great tonight.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.