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Penguins’ Third-Period Rampage is One for the Aged



Reilly Smith

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the oldest team in the National Hockey League, with a lineup studded by key players who are on the far side of 35.

That means they should be wearing down by the third period of the second game while playing on consecutive nights, especially when facing an opponent with younger legs. Which is, of course, pretty much all of them.

And when, in that second game, they’re losing after 40 minutes and being consistently frustrated by a goaltender who has tormented them for years — which was the case when Calgary came to PPG Paints Arena Saturday night — their chances of earning even a single point would figure to fall somewhere between nil and negligible.

That’s what logic says, anyway.

But the Penguins ignored that obvious truth Saturday night, scoring four unanswered goals during one 14-minute stretch of the third in what became a 5-2 victory over Calgary.

The Penguins got a strong performance from backup goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who made his first start since being signed as a free agent this summer. He finished with 34 saves.

“I thought he was solid all night,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He made some big saves for us at some key times.”

The Penguins got a sluggish start for the second night in a row — Calgary accounted for six of the first seven shots in the game — but a strong shift by the Drew O’Connor-Lars Eller-Jansen Harkins line gave them some energy.

Their power play, which scored two goals in three chances during the Penguins’ 4-0 victory in Washington Friday, had three opportunities during the second half of the period, including a 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 35 seconds.

Although the Penguins failed to capitalize on any of those, that had more to do with some stellar work by Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom than any shortcomings by the power play.

“In that first period, he was phenomenal,” Penguins winger Bryan Rust said. “We had a lot of really good looks on the power play and he was making some big saves.”

That Markstrom made some improbable stops probably shouldn’t have surprised the Penguins; he entered the game with six victories in his previous seven appearances against them, and had not given them an even-strength goal in 247 minutes, 17 seconds.

The Penguins might have come closest to scoring when Evgeni Malkin put a shot off the right goalpost during a 4-on-3 advantage, but they generated a handful of other excellent chances.

Calgary controlled much of the play in the early minutes of the second period, and nearly moved in front when Dillon Dube drove a shot off the right post.

The Flames finally broke the scoreless tie during a power play at 18:22, as Matt Coronato beat Nedeljkovic from low in the left circle while Ryan Graves was serving a holding minor.

Coronato’s goal was his first in the NHL, as well as the first man-advantage score the Penguins have allowed this season.

The Flames’ lead didn’t last for long, however.

Rust pulled the Penguins even 18 seconds into the third, as he was hovering near the right post and banked a shot off Markstrom’s skate and into the net for his second of the season. Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel got the assists.

Public-address man Ryan Mill had just begun to announce the details of Rust’s goal to the crowd when Reilly Smith made it 2-1.

He took a cross-ice feed from Malkin and beat Markstrom from the right hash mark for his second of the weekend. The second assist went to Rickard Rakell.

“Getting those two quick ones at the start of the third was big,” Rust said.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ rampage continued at 5:50, when Letang, who was at the left point, slid a pass to Guentzel inside the right circle. Guentzel, who underwent ankle surgery in August, one-timed a shot past Markstrom for his first of the season.

“I missed an easy one in the first, so it was nice to be able to get one,” Guentzel said. “Hopefully, it wll kind of snowball from here.”

Malkin put the game out of Calgary’s reach with his second of the season at 14:14, off an assist by Smith.

Jonathan Huberdeau whittled the Penguins’ lead to 4-2 at 16:05, but Rust hit an empty net at 19:38 to close out the scoring.

The Pittsburgh Penguins revised their practice schedule and will work out Sunday, originally set to be an off-day, at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. They now will have Monday off instead.