PITTSBURGH — Six days ago the Pittsburgh Penguins could not keep up with the offensively creative and talented Colorado Avalanche. The older Penguins who for years feasted on such high scoring hockey had a few things to teach their young heirs in Round 2. The Penguins muscled their way to a three-goal lead in the first seven minutes but needed a short order natural hat trick in the third period from Patric Hornqvist to rock Colorado, 6-3.
Hornqvist’s natural hat trick took 2:47, and was the fastest in Penguins franchise history.
It started well for the Penguins, too.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who was victimized for a couple of breakaway chances on Saturday and admittedly took the blame for the loss to Philadelphia, had a score to settle. Just a few minutes into the game, Letang flashed his elite offensive skill and deked two Colorado defenders in the slot before slipping a sneaky pass to Jake Guentzel on the far post. Guentzel (12) easily scored into the yawning cage.
Just over a minute later, the Penguins second line peppered Colorado starting goalie Semyon Varlamov. Off an offensive zone faceoff, Patric Hornqvist’s hard wrister was stopped. Tanner Pearson’s rebound attempt was blocked but Evgeni Malkin went straight to the net. Malkin (10) chipped the puck past Varlamov.
And the Penguins kept getting taller. Figuratively, of course.
“We have a great group of guys,” said Hornqvist. “And I think this is the turning point of our season.”
Three minutes after the first goal, Derick Brassard and the Penguins third line flashed their grinder skills. Brassard and Zach Aston-Reese worked low in the offensive zone. Then Brassard (3) neatly deflected defenseman Olli Maatta’s slap pass.
However, the consistency which has eluded the Penguins all season again left them as quickly as it arrived.
Colorado’s league-best power play, which is clicking at over 32 percent, notched another marker, six minutes into the second period. Defenseman Tyson Barrie whistled a slap shot past Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith from the top of the zone.
One minute later, Carl Soderberg (9) swatted a bouncing puck past DeSmith.
And one minute after that, the Penguins power play, which has more recently been a boon to the opposition, again yielded a shorthanded goal. Matt Nieto cut inside Phil Kessel and ripped a wrist shot over DeSmith and within 2:15 the Penguins three-goal lead was gone.
However, Hornqvist went to work. Midway through the third period, Hornqvist scored a power-play goal from his office. Just outside the crease, Hornqvist wrapped it around Varlamov.
One minute later, the Penguins intercepted old friend Ian Cole’s breakout pass. Hornqvist’s long slap shot dribbled through Varlamov and the Penguins suddenly had a two-goal lead.
And for good measure, Hornqvist completed the hat trick with a wrist shot past Varlamov. Oh by the way, the promotional giveaway Tuesday night were ball caps. Really. And Hornqvist made it rain. He and teammates laughed as the sky was filled with flying gray Penguins hats.
“It’s a good night to get a hat trick (on hat night),” laughed Hornqvist. “The two last ones, they were lucky ones.”
DeSmith was solid. The Avalanche tested him often. He made the saves he needed to make and a few bonus saves including on Nathan MacKinnon’s breakaway.
Breakaways have been hurting DeSmith but not Tuesday. PHN had to ask about seeing MacKinnon bearing down on him.
“Yeah, I worked on some things physically and mentally,” said DeSmith. “Changed some things and hopefully going in the right direction.”
And the Penguins for a night appear headed in the right direction.