PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins needed to get rid of the sour taste from their loss to Chicago on Wednesday. That went double for Evgeni Malkin who was roundly criticized by fans and media, alike and even linemate Phil Kessel who is generally off limits to such negativity. So it was Malkin and his linemates including Zach Aston-Reese who provided a pair of goals as the Penguins beat the Boston Bruins 5-3 at PPG Paints Arena, Friday.
However, after Boston scored a quick pair of third period goals, it was Jake Guentzel (13) who deflected Kris Letang’s shot midway through the third period for the game-winner.
Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith, who is now in competition with Matt Murray for starts, was spectacular. DeSmith made no less than six sparkling saves, including a diving glove save on Brad Marchand and an out-of-nowhere pad save on Colby Cave in the third period. DeSmith also robbed Jakub Forsbacka-Karlsson in the final 90 seconds to preserve the win.
“It’s always fun when you’re getting peppered,” said DeSmith who added a caveat. “As long as you’re on the right side of things.”
The Penguins first goal was fourth line grinding.
Late in the first period, the Penguins fourth liners continued their steady contribution. Matt Cullen, in his second game back after a three-week injury absence, won the puck battle in the corner, and drew two defenders before slipping the puck to Derek Grant near the crease.
Grant (2) showed quick hands and steered the puck around Boston goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Malkin and Kessel turned in their homework in the first period with a work of art. The pair worked a controlled zone entry, give-and-go. Kessel dropped the puck to Malkin at the blue line then made a beeline for the net. Malkin zipped a pass to Kessel’s (13) tape for a quick wrist shot from the right circle. The goal gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead.
The Penguins have been a turnstile for shorthanded goals this season. However, in the final minute of the second period, it was a turn of fortune which temporarily gave the Penguins a two-goal lead. Moments after Boston winger David Pastrnak missed an open net with a one-timer, Aston-Reese (3) had a short breakaway. He gave the Penguins a 3-1 lead with the shorthanded goal.
“(Riley Sheahan) drew the defender over and just made a nice pass to me,” said Aston-Reese. “I didn’t give the goalie too much time to set up. I tried to get it off as soon as possible.”
Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith was remarkable, especially in the first period. DeSmith stuffed a few Grade A chances but made a highlight reel save on Brad Marchand midway through the first. Marchand cut across the crease but DeSmith dove to his left to make a falling glove save.
“(Marchand) cut back the other way. I fell over and just kind of stuck something over there,” smiled DeSmith. “Thankfully it went in my glove.”
Bryan Rust also continued his offensive pressure, though the hockey gods which smiled on him Wednesday, were again teasing him. Early in the period, Rust took more paint off the post behind Halak with a top-shelf wrister. Mid-way through the first period, Rust also fanned on a rebound attempt in the crease. His hop earned him a promotion to the Sidney Crosby line to begin the second period, as Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan put Tanner Pearson on Derick Brassard’s left side.
Boston was able to blunt the Penguins second-period momentum midway through the period. As the Malkin line scrambled to defend, all five Penguins dropped below the dots. Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo’s (1) slapshot from the right circle beat DeSmith.
Both teams brought their puck management game. The Penguins had only five giveaways through two periods. Boston had only two.
However, the Boston capitalized on a couple of Penguins mistakes midway through the third period. Uncovered Chris Wagner blasted one past DeSmith from the right wing circle after the Penguins converged on the left wing wall. Then David Krecji (5) finished a three-on-one which became a two-on-none after defenseman Olli Maatta tangled with David Pastrnak at center ice and Jamie Oleksiak stepped forward to defend.
Aston-Reese (4) added an empty netter, his second goal of the game, to finish off the scoring.
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang limped off the ice in the third period with an apparent leg injury. No update was available after the game.