SHOCKER: Penguins Get Two-Point Tourniquet; Beat Avs, 5-2
These Pittsburgh Penguins are a lot of things. Predictable isn’t one of them.
Consider that they had lost four games in a row before Wednesday night, a streak bookended by losses on home ice to a couple of teams that are going to sit out the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
And that they were on the road, playing the defending Cup champions, who had won their previous six games in a row and were on a 21-5-3 roll.
Oh. yeah. And they were playing in a city, Denver, where the air is thinner than a supermodel.
Clearly, there was little, if any, reason to believe the Penguins would win.
Could win, even.
So naturally, they did.
The Penguins defeated Colorado, 5-2, at Ball Arena, one of their most improbable — and impressive — victories of 2022-23
The win allowed them to move back into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field, one point ahead of Florida.
They are two points behind the New York Islanders, who have the first wild card but have played one more game than the Penguins.
Perhaps fittingly, one of the major difference-makers in this game was Jeff Carter, justifiably the target of much criticism from the press and public this season, who scored the Penguins’ third and fourth goals while centering a solid fourth line.
Although both sides generated a few quality scoring chances during the first period, neither goalie was beaten then.
Colorado’s Alexandar Georgiev denied Jason Zucker from in front of the net at 3:50, and 2 1/2 minutes later. Tristan Jarry made a good stop on a Denis Malgin backhander from the inner edge of the right circle.
Jarry turned aside Lars Eller during a 2-on-1 break with 3 1/2 minutes to go, about 90 seconds after Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon put a shot off the crossbar.
MacKinnon’s near-goal came seconds after Jake Guentzel was felled by a shot, making him the second top-six forward of the Penguins to be hobbled that way during the opening period.
Zucker had to make his way to the bench after putting himself in front of a shot by Colorado defenseman Brad Hunt at 7:40.
Neither he nor Guentzel missed a shift, an early indication of the commitment the Penguins showed throughout this game.
Colorado got the only power play of the period, when Bryan Rust was sent off for hooking at 18:16. The Avalanche had at least one man-advantage goal in each of the previous eight games, but failed to manufacture a shot on Jarry while Rust was in the box.
The Penguins, who had managed a total of just three goals in the previous three games, scored twice in less than three minutes early in the second period.
Fifty-five seconds after Rust’s minor expired, Sidney Crosby scored on a spectacular individual effort.
He deked around Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard in the slot, then whipped a backhander over Georgiev’s right shoulder from above the right hash at 1:11.
Assists on the goal, Crosby’s 30th, went to Guentzel and P.O Joseph.
Penalties to Kurtis MacDermid (2:50) and Andrew Cogliano (3:39) gave the Pittsburgh Penguins a 5-on-3 power play for 71 seconds, and they needed only 27 seconds of it to get a second goal.
Guentzel scored it at 4:06, when he set up near the net and backhanded an Evgeni Malkin rebound out of the air and by Georgiev for his 31st.
The Avalanche finally broke through at 11:35, when J.T. Compher beat Jarry from the front lip of the crease. He scored a second or so after Kris Letang was knocked off the puck behind the goal line.
Carter, who had not scored in the previous 11 games, restored the Penguins’ two-goal advantage at 14:12, as he beat Georgiev from the inner edge of the left circle for his 10th of the season and what proved to be the game-winner.
He was set up nicely by Rust, who fed him a pass from the right side of the crease. The second assist went to Zucker.
It was the second goal of the night for the Penguins’ power play, which had gone 0-for-8 in the previous three games.
Chad Ruhwedel, whose hooking minor late in the third period led to Drake Batherson’s game-winning goal in the Penguins’ 2-1 loss to Ottawa Monday, was called for holding Rantanen with 51.8 seconds to go in the period, giving Colorado its second try with the extra man.
This time, however, the Penguins’ penalty-killers bailed him out.
Josh Archibald wasn’t as fortunate after he was caught tripping Rantanen at 9:12 of the third.
He was in the box when Devon Toews beat Jarry with a low shot from below the right dot at 10:28 to make it 3-2, but Carter countered that at 12:51 by steering in a Brian Dumoulin shot for his second of the game.
Rust closed out the scoring with an empty-netter with 18.5 seconds left.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were scheduled to fly to Dallas, where they will face the Stars Thursday at 9:08 p.m., after the game.