PITTSBURGH — With questions mounting if the Pittsburgh Penguins could muster enough offense to win hockey games, they forcefully scored five goals in the first 27 minutes against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and extended their run of puck domination, too. Dominik Kahun scored a pair of second-period goals and Evgeni Malkin was on his blades as he toyed with Toronto. By the halfway point of the game, Toronto’s shoulders were slumped and the Penguins put themselves two points ahead of Toronto for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with a 6-1 win at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday.
With the weight of the Penguins season on his shoulders, Evgeni Malkin was unstoppable. The Malkin line with Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel churned out scoring chances like an assembly line. In the first period alone, the line had four golden opportunities and converted one.
First, the Penguins power play put a marker on the board. The second power-play unit led by Juuso Riikola stripped away the schemes and blasted away from the point. The second unit created pressure and momentum, then Malkin and the first unit lit the lamp six minutes into the game. Penguins winger Jake Guentzel (9) won the puck battle in the crease to chip it over the line.
The Penguins power play had seven shots on goal. It was just the ninth first-period goal of the season for the Penguins but the 28th allowed by Toronto.
The Malkin line continued the pressure. Just two minutes later, a backcheck by Malkin sprung the line on a three-on-two. Malkin (3) circled behind the play and ripped a wrister from the slot past Toronto rookie goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo.
It was a rude welcome for Kaskisuo’s first NHL start. And it got worse.
The Penguins exploded for three goals in the first seven minutes of the second period, including two by Dominik Kahun to break open the game. Just 52 seconds into the period, the Penguins maintained possession in the offensive zone before Kahun (4) zipped a long-range wrist shot through light traffic. Kaskisuo was slightly off his angle and the puck was just inside the far post.
Just four minutes later, referees eventually awarded Kahun a goal after he snapped a wrist shot into an empty net. The cage was open because Brandon Tanev slid into Kaskisuo but Tanev slid into Kaskisuo because Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin tripped him. Officials initially waved off the goal immediately. Officials quickly reviewed it and concluded no goal.
However, after a lengthy chat with Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan who came down to ice level to discuss the matter, the Penguins officially challenged the ruling and Kahun (5) was given his second goal of the game.
Penguins center Jared McCann (7) ripped a shot past Kaskisou a few minutes later, too. Again, Tanev drove to the front of the net, but he was able to stop short this time but it was enough to open space for McCann and enough to distract the goalie.
Toronto finally put a notch on the scoreboard midway through the second period. Jason Spezza (2) beat Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry from point-blank range.
“(Jarry) was solid. He was real good for us,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “He swallowed a lot of pucks.”
Rust (6) scored a shorthanded goal early in the third period to end any and all suspense. Toronto lost its fifth game in a row, and the Penguins won for the first time in three games.
Kahun (2g, 1) and Rust (1g, 2a) had three points. Malkin, Guentzel, and Tanev had two points each. Tristan Jarry was very good when tested. He stopped 31 of 32 shots. Kaskisuo allowed six goals on 37 shots.