The Pittsburgh Penguins were hoping their victory in Arizona Sunday night would give them a reset.
After all, they’d gone 0-4-2 in the six games before their trip to Tempe.
But little more than seven minutes into their game against Vancouver at PPG Paints Arena Tuesday night, it looked like the Penguins weren’t going to get anything but a brief reprieve out of their win over the Coyotes.
They spotted Vancouver a 3-0 lead, and their only chance of pulling off a comeback seemed to be if the Canucks wore themselves out celebrating so many goals.
But a change in goaltenders, with Dustin Tokarski replacing Casey DeSmith, coincided with an abrupt reversal in the course of the game, and the Penguins (21-13-6) ran off five unanswered goals in what became a 5-4 victory.
Mike Sullivan made one personnel change before the game, flipping left winger Drew O’Connor from the fourth line to the third and dropping Danton Heinen to the fourth.
The Penguins had just returned from more than a week on the road, and it’s not unusual for clubs to struggle in their first game back after a significant trip.
Sullivan, though, probably didn’t see a start like this coming, even in his most disturbing nightmares.
Conor Garland put Vancouver up, 1-0, at 4:46 of the opening period, as he put a shot over DeSmith’s glove from inside the left dot.
Brock Boeser than shoveled in a backhander from in front of the net at 6:40, and Quinn Hughes made it 3-0 at 7:05.
At that point, DeSmith had stopped four of seven shots (although the official stats sheet said he faced just five) … and he didn’t get a chance to face a eighth.
He was replaced by Tokarski, and the game began to turn almost as soon as the switch was made.
Evgeni Malkin started a Penguins surge by beating Spencer Martin from above the right dot for his 13th, off assists from Ty Smith and Bryan Rust.
Tokarski kept the Penguins within two by denying Elias Pettersson on a shorthanded break down the right side at 14:26, and Sidney Crosby rewarded him by steering in a Brian Dumoulin pass at 14:26.
The goal, which also netted an assist for Rust, was Crosby’s 21st of the season and his 1,457th career point, tying him with Teemu Selanne for 17th place on the NHL’s all-time list.
Jason Zucker completed the comeback at 16:30, throwing a shot over Martin’s glove from the left side of the slot for his 10th of the season. Malkin, who won a faceoff directly to Zucker to set up the goal, received the lone assist.
Zucker, however, was not finished. He delivered the hit of the period about 40 seconds before the intermission, felling Garland neat the Vancouver blue line by driving a shoulder into him.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ rally marked just the third time in franchise history they have rebounded from a three-goal deficit in the first period to at least pull even. They previously did it Dec. 20, 1987 and Nov. 30, 1974.
Malkin and Zucker swapped roles on the go-ahead goal at 7:59 of the second, with Malkin directing a Zucker feed behind Martin for his second of the evening. Both teams had a man in the penalty box when he scored.
Tokarski preserved the lead by denying Pettersson on a shorthanded breakaway and Rickard Rakell expanded it a few seconds later, sweeping in a loose puck near the left post at 14:31 for the Penguins’ second man-advantage goal of the game. They had entered the game in a 0-for-21 slump with the extra man, while Vancouver came in with the league’s worst penalty-kill.
Malkin’s assist on the Rakell goal gave him his 28th career four-point game.
The Penguins survived a two-man disadvantage for 36 seconds late in the period to stay ahead by two.
Vancouver finally cut into their lead at 12:52 of the third, when Travis Dermott moved in from the point and backhanded a shot past Tokarski to make it 5-4, but the Canucks were unable to get a tying goal.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Wednesday and will face Winnipeg Friday at 7:08 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena before visiting Carolina Saturday at 7:08 p.m.