PITTSBURGH — Phil Kessel finally scored and the Pittsburgh Penguins defensive effort was impenetrable. The Penguins earned points in their sixth consecutive game and third straight win as they dominated the
. The game started friendly enough. Newly acquired Columbus Blue Jackets top center Matt Duchene glided over to check on Penguins third line center Nick Bjugstad who was tripped awkwardly near the wall. From there, emotions rose and there was no more concern for the health of others.
Poor Phil Kessel. The two-time Stanley Cup champion and American hero has been stymied time and again for 16 games. He stopped shooting. He flooded the net with shots. Nothing worked, until Thursday night.
Two minutes into the game, as Columbus defenseman Scott Harrington served two minutes for tripping Bjugstad, Kessel finally got a bit of puck luck. After a scramble around the Columbus net, Kessel (2) shoveled the puck into the crease. It deflected off sprawled Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo and trickled across the goal line.
They don’t have to be pretty. They puck just has to cross the line. Kessel was all smiles as teammates roughed him up on the bench and the PPG Paints Arena crowd gave him a standing ovation.
The Penguins defended more than pressured Columbus in the second period, but it was the Penguins who again lit the lamp. In the final minutes of the second period, the Bjugstad line with Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist pinned Columbus deep in the zone. Bjugstad spun away from a defender in the slot and had a clean look through traffic. Bjugstad (9) snapped it five-hole through Korpisalo.
The Penguins also counter-attacked far more effectively than Columbus attacked. Evgeni Malkin had a breakaway and Jake Guentzel had a pair of great chances.
Sidenote–The goal also meant Bjugstad became the Penguins all-time leader in goals scored by a Bjugstad. His uncle Scott played 24 games for the Penguins in 1988-89 and scored three goals.
The Penguins suffocated Columbus in the third period. It was nearly 11 minutes into the third period before Columbus had it’s first shot on goal. Penguins goalie Matt Murray made 25 saves including a couple of sparklers late in the game for the shutout.
Sidney Crosby added the empty net goal. He too has scored in six straight games.
The Penguins solidified their playoff position. They now have a four-point lead on Columbus, which is the first team out of the playoffs.
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