The Pittsburgh Penguins spent the game on the wrong side of the puck and staring at a tornado of Florida Panthers chances and attacks. But the Penguins earned a few goals in the first 30 minutes including Sidney Crosby’s power-play goal in the second period which stood as the game-winner. By most metrics, it wasn’t close, bu the Penguins avoided beach regret with a 3-2 win at BB&T Arena on Saturday night.
Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry was tested. Again and again. He stopped 33 of 35 shots and Jack Johnson lunged to break up a last-second breakaway by Mike Hoffman. It was that kind of night. The win pulled the Penguins within four points of the Metro Division-leading Washington Capitals. The Penguins have one game in hand.
“One pass beat all of us,” Johnson said. “That was pretty poor execution out there. Especially as one of the D out there, we have to protect the middle better than that.”
The Penguins mustered only 22 shots on goal.
“We knew they were going to push,” Crosby said. “(Jarry) did a great job making some key saves, swallowing up rebounds and allowing us to hold them off.”
After a loss to Vegas just a couple of days ago which Florida forward Vincent Trocheck called embarrassing, Florida pushed the Penguins early in the first period and for most of the game. But a simple mistake by Florida at the end of a first-period power play allowed lifted the Penguins.
After Penguins defenseman Kris Letang took a holding penalty in the first two minutes, he gave the Penguins the important first goal of the game. As he bolted from the penalty box, the Florida pass to the point hopped over Aaron Ekblad’s stick and bounced to center ice to spring Letang on a breakaway. Letang (12) deked Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to the backhand.
Florida is 24-2-2 when scoring first, so there was real importance to the first goal.
Later in the first period, the hard work of the Penguins third line yielded another goal. Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger worked the cycle around the offensive zone, and included the defensemen, too. Jack Johnson’s shot deflected through Florida defenders and Blueger (8) chipped the loose puck past Bobrovsky.
In the waning moments of the first period, the Pittsburgh Penguins first line continued to struggle. All three forwards, Jared McCann, Dominik Simon and Sidney Crosby were trapped behind the play as Florida quickly transitioned. A four-on-two quickly became a three-on-one and Florida winger Mike Hoffman (21) ripped a wrister past Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry.
Early in the second period, the Penguins appeared to take a commanding 3-1 lead, but while they were busy admiring their handiwork, Florida scored just nine seconds later.
First, the Penguins broke an 0-for-11 power-play slump and scored their first power-play goal since Jan. 31. The Penguins effectively zipped past aggressive penalty killers, and Sidney Crosby (10) neatly deflected Jared McCann’s pass for his first goal in three games. The goal stood as the GWG, barely.
Crosby downplayed his pretty goal.
“You saw, I think (Hornqvist) was around the (net), too,” he said. “You just saw some sticks there. It was a good heads up play by (Jared McCann) to find the opening.”
However, while the Penguins reveled in “after goal” Florida struck back. Vincent Trocheck stormed the Penguins zone and slipped a pass to Brett Connolly, who was alone between the circles. Connolly (17) quickly snapped it past Jarry to complete the tic-tac-toe play.
Florida otherwise dominated the second period. Florida had 60% of the scoring chances, 70% of all shot attempts and 75% of the high-danger chances in the second period.
The Pittsburgh Penguins finally pushed back in the third period. The Penguins again applied pressure in the offensive zone, though they weren’t immune from a few more gaffes and yielded a couple more high-danger chances.
Jarry was brilliant. He avoided the highlight reel saves and was instead in a solid position to stop no less than a half dozen breakaways and odd-man rushes. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 19 of 22 shots.