It was a night for grinders as Pittsburgh Penguins forward Bryan Rust had a hat trick and Chicago Blackhawks bottom-six forwards Marcus Kruger and Andreas Martin each had a goal and an assist. Chicago snapped an eight-game losing streak and earned just their fourth win in 22 games by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-3 at the United Center, Wednesday.
Chicago scored a pair of empty-net goals in the final two minutes to expand the final margin.
The hockey gods which have been punishing Bryan Rust instead bestowed their good graces on the Penguins plugger, Wednesday. Rust scored a hat trick, received shoulder grabbing congratulations from his head coach and the Penguins rallied from a 2-0 first period deficit but were never able to get ahead of Chicago.
The Penguins top-six had a high volume of shots but not goals. Instead, the bottom-six forwards did the heavy lifting. In fact, both teams relied on their grinders.
Rust’s third goal was a direct reward for the half dozen posts and would-be goals Rust has been denied over the past few weeks. In the final minute of the second period, the Penguins third line again accounted for the Penguins offense with superior work ethic–Zach Aston-Reese stole the puck from Chicago goalie Corey Crawford to set the play in motion. Rust’s wayward shot deflected off defenseman Brent Seabrook and formerly mustached forward had his third goal.
However, Rust’s goal only tied the game, 3-3.
Chicago’s game winner was about Penguins mistakes as much as it was their hard work. Following a Chicago power play, gritty Chicago forward Marcus Kruger was left lonely in front of the Penguins net after Evgeni Malkin didn’t pressure the puck in the corner, and Sidney Crosby and Marcus Petterson failed to cover Kruger in front.
Chicago which as experienced precious few leads during their previous 16 games under new head coach Jeremy Colliton, scored the first two goals. It was the first time since Nov. 18 Chicago scored first.
With four minutes remaining in the first period, the Chicago fourth line outworked the Penguins second line centered by Evgeni Malkin. Chicago blitzed the Penguins low zone and Marcus Kruger hit the crossbar. In the ensuing chaos, the Penguins chased the puck as Chicago kept shooting. Defenseman Carl Dahlstrom’s shot caromed off Andreas Martinson for Chicago’s first goal.
Chicago kept outworking the Penguins. Near the 18 minute mark of the first period, Chicago claimed a two-goal lead. Jake Guentzel collapsed low which left the point open. Blackhawks stalwart defenseman Brent Seabrook stepped into a slap shot from the top of the circle and blew it past Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith.
In the final seconds of the opening period, the Penguins grinders clawed back into the game. Zach Aston-Reese made a couple of nice plays and retrieved the puck for Bryan Rust. Yes, Bryan Rust found the score sheet–just his second goal of the season–and it was a pretty corner curl and top-shelf shelf wrister.
Rust’s second goal was also the result of good puck pressure by Derek Grant and Rust going to the net.
Alex DeBrincat scored a power-play goal on a brilliant rush and dance around Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, late in the second period. Chicago had a league-worst, 11.3 percent power play, but the goal kept Chicago ahead.
Penguins starting goalie Casey DeSmith made several big saves but the Penguins otherwise suffered big lapses and sloppy defensive coverage. DeSmith stopped 23 of 27 shots.
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford was solid. He stopped 40 of 43. Jonathan Toews and Brandon scored empty-netters in the final two minutes and Chelsea Dagger blared through the arena for the first time in weeks.
The win was just Chicago’s fourth win in their last 22 games and snapped an eight-game losing streak. Chicago has won 11 straight against the Penguins dating back to Jan. 21, 2015.