Phil Kessel scored a pair of goals. Matt Murray has not lost since Jan. 2, and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their sixth in a row. Friday, they steamrolled the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena, 6-1, and, for good measure, acquired highly-sought-after center Derick Brassard from the Ottawa Senators.
The win vaulted the Penguins back to first place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the Washington Capitals, and kept the Hurricanes out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card position. The Capitals have one game in hand on the Penguins.
The Penguins’ third line, especially wingers Kessel and Jake Guentzel, was dynamic. Late in the first period, Kessel set up Guentzel for the Penguins’ first goal. Guentzel parked on the back-side post, as Kessel skated across the zone. After Kessel slipped past a couple of defenders, Guentzel (20) was wide-open for a simple tap-in.
“I thought (the line) was terrific. It was hard not to like (the third line). They did a lot of great things out there,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.
Leading 2-1, Kessel scored a pair of goals in the second period.
Early in the period, Guentzel passed to Kessel in left-wing circle. The Hurricanes defense lost track of Kessel, who whipped the one-timer past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward.
Two minutes later, the Penguins capitalized on their second three-on-one rush in 11 seconds. Kessel squeaked his shot under falling Hurricanes goaltender Ward. The puck trickled over the line. Guentzel assisted on both Kessel markers for a three-point night.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin must have felt left out. The dynamic duo scored the Penguins final goals.
Midway through the third period, Crosby scored a power-play goal. Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin allowed Crosby space and time to deposit Kris Letang‘s rebound easily.
Three minutes later, the Penguins’ aggressive forecheck bullied the disinterested Hurricanes. Malkin and rookie winger Zach Aston-Reese blitzed the Hurricanes defenders, who fumbled the puck deep in the Hurricanes zone. Aston-Reese gained possession and quickly shot. Malkin finished the second-chance rebound.
Aston-Reese has five points in his last five games. Malkin has 73 points (34g, 39a); he is the NHL’s second-leading scorer and trails scoring leader Nikita Kucherov by seven points.
In the second period, Teuvo Teravainen (15) scored the lone Hurricanes goal.
Stat Lines and Trades
Murray was a brick wall early. Murray stopped 26 of 27 shots, including 15 of 16 in the second period, when the game was still in doubt. Hurricanes goalie Ward destroyed his goalie stick in the third period as punishment for stopping only 32 of 37 shots. Bad, bad stick.
During the game, Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford completed the trade for Brassard. The three-way trade was agreed to by the Penguins, Senators and Vegas Golden Knights earlier in the day, but the NHL rejected it based on financial processes.
“This was the most complex trade I’ve made,” said Rutherford. “We thought we had the deal made earlier in the day. It wasn’t made.”
The teams finally figured it out, but it cost the Penguins Ian Cole, Ryan Reaves, goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson, a first-round selection this year, and a third-round pick next year. The original deal did not include dealing Reaves to Vegas, but Rutherford managed to get Vegas to pay 40 percent of Brassard’s $5 million salary, received a couple faded prospects and Ottawa’s third-round draft choice, which will be a high selection in that round.
“There were cap issues (which held up the deal). How it was made, which moves went first, things like that,” Rutherford lamented. The Penguins have the deepest core of centers in the NHL with Brassard and Riley Sheahan following Crosby and Malkin.
When asked why the Penguins went after Brassard, Rutherford deadpanned, “Why not? Have you seen him play?”
In the days leading up to the deal, Pittsburgh Hockey Now was the only outlet to advise of a Western Conference team helping the Penguins, and this outlet was clear, Brassard was the right move.
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