PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins put on a holiday show for the home crowd. The Penguins led 2-0, trailed 4-2, 6-3, but eventually tied the game with a furious comeback in the first 10 minutes of the third period. Penguins starter Matt Murray was pulled in favor of Tristan Jarry who also gave up two goals, Jake Guentzel scored a pair of goals and Zach Aston-Reese (4) ended an 11-game goalless drought with a cathartic game-tying third-period goal. What was appeared to be an unfolding Steven King horror show became a Marvel Comics blockbuster with each Penguins score at PPG Paints Arena.
The PPG Paints Arena crowd braved extra traffic to see the thrilling conclusion. With three minutes left in regulation, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (5) atoned for a couple of mistakes which led to goals and blasted a slapper past Thatcher Demko for a 7-6 lead.
“To watch them play so hard for one another…” said head coach Mike Sullivan who later added, “But what I loved is the game never seemed to get away from us.”
As icing on the cake, Malkin (6) scored an empty-net goal from his backside with 0.2 seconds remaining.
Malkin had five points (2g, 3a). Guentzel (2g, 2a) and Bryan Rust had four points (1g, 3a), and Rust led all players with seven shots.
The Penguins malaise which they overcame against Calgary on Monday resurfaced in the second period. Vancouver scored a pair of goals late in the second period, chased Penguins starter Matt Murray and put a two-goal lead on the scoreboard.
With 90 seconds remaining in the second period and the game limping towards a 2-2 tie at intermission, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang allowed Jake Virtanen to sneak past him and get a free look at Murray. Virtanen (7) spun to the backhand and poked the puck through Murray’s five-hole. The tally gave Vancouver a 3-2 lead on their 13th shot on goal.
In the waning seconds of the second period, and just 40 seconds later, Murray served a big rebound back into the slot. After a little scrum at the net, Adam Gaudette (5) cleaned up the garbage. The goal gave Vancouver a 4-2 lead on their 14th shot and gave the Penguins a new goalie when Murray was pulled in favor of Tristan Jarry.
The Penguins had a strong start.
Despite Evgeni Malkin’s occasional puck wizardry, a simple faceoff win earned him an assist just two minutes into the game. Malkin cleanly won a faceoff and pulled the puck back to winger Jake Guentzel (13), who quickly snapped it short side on Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko. The marker was Guentzel’s sixth straight home game with a goal.
Malkin’s second helper was prettier. First, the Penguins big Russian center drew an interference penalty by stealing the puck in the defensive zone and chipping it behind Troy Stecher, who was forced to grab Malkin to prevent a breakaway.
On the resulting power play 12 minutes into the game, Malkin’s nifty pass through defenders gave Bryan Rust (9) an empty net. Rust didn’t miss.
Then the game turned against the Penguins before their epic comeback.
The Penguins prevented Vancouver from getting their first shot for 14 minutes. However, just a couple of minutes later, Vancouver scored on just their third shot on goal. The Penguins pressed in the offensive zone which allowed Vancouver to transition against defensemen Chad Ruhwedel and Marcus Pettersson. Ruhwedel tried to break up the rush at the red line, but missed and J.T. Miller (11) finished the consequential three-on-one.
Vancouver converted another odd-man rush early in the second period. A bad change combined with an offensive zone change of possession sprung Vancouver on a three-on-two. Letang covered the puck carrier who went wide. Dumoulin protected the back door, but the open player in the slot was sharpshooter Elias Pettersson. The rush in which Pettersson (11) was uncovered ended as you may expect when the 21-year-old center whistled a wrister past Murray.
The Penguins attempted to make a run early in the third period. In the first minute, Guentzel (14) scored his second goal of the game on a backhander through traffic, but the Penguins quickly gave back the goal, and more.
Dominik Kahunn took what should have been backbreaking tripping call shortly after the Penguins third goal and Vancouver scored on the resulting power play. It was a bad luck goal but it broke the Penguins spirit. Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson partially blocked Virtanen’s (7) shot from the right-wing circle but the puck changed direction and fluttered past Jarry.
Vancouver led 5-3 and quickly scored another, and the game should have been over. Should have been over as Vancouver scored their sixth goal 35 seconds later. Letang whiffed on Gaudette in the offensive zone and Gaudette(6) had an uncontested chance from point-blank range which he buried for a 6-3 lead.
Then the epic Penguins comeback.
Kahun (7) spurred the charge with a goal six minutes into the period. He charged the net and finished Jared McCann’s bouncing rebound.
One minute later, Malkin (5) blasted a howitzer of a shot past Vancouver Thatcher Demko.
Three minutes later and after a few near misses, the Penguins completed the comeback when Aston-Reese (4) top-shelved a rebound for the tying goal. It was Aston-Reese’s first goal in 11 games.