Lemieux had missed nearly four weeks with a groin injury and sat out Sunday’s All-Star Game to gain more rest. He skated a regular shift Tuesday and keyed the power play, but Pittsburgh never got its offense in gear.
“When you miss a month, it is pretty tough to get back in the swing of things,” Lemieux said. “Conditioning doesn’t always get you up to game shape. I felt pretty good on the power play, had time to find open guys but was a little tired at the end.”
Compounding matters for the Penguins, who fell to 1-4-1 in their last six contests, was sloppy play. After Henrik Sedin scored a power-play goal 7:48 into the contest, Cooke and Lindgren took advantage of poor decision-making to give Vancouver early breathing room.
Alexei Kovalev tried to rally Pittsburgh single-handedly, scoring in each of the last two periods and registering 10 shots in the contest. But the Penguins were 0-for-5 with the man advantage and never managed to record the equalizer.
“Our power play moved it around,” Penguins coach Rick Kehoe said. “We had some chances but could not score. We had chances on the power play in the first period to take the lead and could not get one.”
Vancouver’s Dan Cloutier made 30 saves and won for the first time since January 19, while rookie Sebastien Caron stopped 36 shots for the Penguins but fell to 0-5-1 in his last six outings.
“With Mario coming back, we knew they would come at us hard,” Cloutier said. “Our penalty-killing was the difference in the game. I have felt pretty good the last couple of games. These two teams come with a lot of speed. You knew there would be a lot of shots, you knew they would try to feed Mario.”
“We talked a lot about how much desperation Pittsburgh was going to play with and they certainly did not disappoint us,” Vancouver coach Marc Crawford said. “We can’t take anything for granted. This team has learned some lessons. I thought we played well tonight. Our penalty kill was excellent. Our best penalty killer - Danny Sedin - was our best player.”
Vancouver broke on top 7:48 into the contest when Henrik Sedin took advantage of a lucky bounce.
Henrik Sedin was involved in a scrum behind the net and slid a pass out front that hit the skate of Penguins defenseman Ian Moran and deflected past Caron.
Henrik Sedin’s goal was his fourth of the season but second in as many games.
Cooke made it 2-0 just under two minutes later with his ninth goal. Penguins rookie Dick Tarnstrom was behind the net and tried to clear the puck, but his pass was off the mark and picked off by Cooke. The Vancouver center got off a quick shot that hit Moran and redirected past Caron.
“Their first goal went off Ian and their second did, too,” Tarnstrom said. “That was a bad pass by me up the middle. I shouldn’t have done that. It was still a good shot by Cooke.”
“I was just standing there and it just found me, it just popped out to the middle,” Cooke said. “I was looking to get the shot off quickly. I thought it went off a pad, I had already thought I had beaten the goaltender.”
Lindgren made it 3-0 with a shorthanded tally 98 seconds into the second period. Kovalev was looking to make a breakout pass, but Lindgren intercepted the puck and beat Caron between the pads from five feet.
“I wasn’t anticipating anything,” Lindgren said. “I was just in the right position. A player like me doesn’t often see that much open ice. I just wanted to challenge the goalie and I guess I did the right thing.”
“Against a good team like Vancouver, it is tough to be down 3-0,” Lemieux said. “It is disgusting to go down 3-0 early in your own building. We have to play better defensively. We made mistakes at the wrong time.”
Kovalev scored his 24th goal of the season with 14:03 left in the second period, beating Cloutier with a slap shot from the right faceoff circle. He made it a one-goal game 9:23 into the third with another slapper from the right circle.
“Kovalev was not feeling well tonight but came to play,” Kehoe added. “He had a touch of the flu.”
Pittsburgh managed just six shots in the third period.