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Rocky Mountain Low: Avalanche of Late Goals Buries Penguins, 5-4, in OT

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have proven repeatedly this season that almost no lead is safe when they’re playing.

Not if they’re the team with that lead, anyway.

But they outdid themselves Sunday, losing to Colorado, 5-4, in overtime at Ball Arena despite building a 4-0 advantage with less than 24 minutes remaining in regulation.

Especially considering that Sidney Crosby had one of his most productive games in an outstanding season, recording one goal and three assists for his 40th career four-point game.

The defeat extended the Penguins’ futility streak on the road to 0-6-2 and dropped their record to 30-30-10.

Jonathan Drouin completed Colorado’s comeback from its four-goal deficit when he burst past Kris Letang on the right side before flipping a shot by Alex Nedeljkovic 54 seconds into the extra period for the game-winner.

The Penguins had a strong start in what became a 5-2 loss in Dallas Friday, and got an even better one against Colorado.

They ran up a 6-1 edge in shots during the first 4 1/2 minutes of play and, more impressively, not only survived the kind of mistake that has done them in so often this season, but actually seemed to get energy from it.

Jesse Puljujarvi was assessed a holding minor in the offensive zone at 5:52, but the Penguins held the Avalanche power play — which had scored at least one goal in seven of the previous eight games and entered the game on a 12-for-32 roll — and took a 1-0 lead just 21 seconds after that man-advantage ended.

Puljujarvi got the goal, his second, by knocking in a loose puck from the left side of the crease. Assists went to Reilly Smith and Crosby.

Crosby’s assist was his 70th point in 70 games, assuring that he would stay on at least a point-per-game pace. If he can maintain that through the end of the season, he will tie Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of doing it 19 times.

Rather than easing up after scoring — another common problem for them in 2023-24 — the Penguins continued to press after Puljujarvi scored, and Bryan Rust doubled their lead with an exceptional individual effort at 15:11.

He carried the puck down the left side, got around Avs defenseman Josh Manson and cut toward the net before sliding a shot past Colorado goalie Alexandar Georgiev for his 22nd. Crosby got the lone assist.

The Penguins finished the period with a 16-4 advantage in shots that was a pretty accurate reflection of how those 20 minutes played out.

Predictably enough, Colorado regrouped during the intermission and carried the play through the opening half of the second period.

The Penguins had a chance to reclaim the momentum when Avs defenseman Devon Toews was called for delay-of-game after lofting a puck over the glass from the defensive zone, but the two best scoring chances while he was in the penalty box belonged to Colorado.

Andrew Cogliano’s shot missed the net on the first of those, during a 2-on-1 break, and Brandon Duhaime hit the crossbar on another odd-man break as Toews’ penalty was ending.

Although such a strong penalty-kill could have further juiced the Avalanche, Crosby deflated them by setting up to the right of the crease and steering a Valtteri Puustinen pass into the net at 13:47 for his 34th.

P.O Joseph put the Penguins up by four at 15:40, when his shot from the high slot sailed through a screen set by Emil Bemstrom and past Georgiev for his first of the season. Crosby received the lone assist.

The Avalanche countered almost immediately, however, as defenseman Sean Walker beat Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic high on the stick side at 16:05 with a shot from above the right circle.

If that goal didn’t dispel any thoughts the Penguins might have had that the game was under control, the one Yakov Trenin scored with 29.3 seconds left in the period after Duhaime¬†picked off a clearing attempt by Erik Karlsson surely did.

Indeed, the Penguins made it to the intermission with a two-goal cushion only because Nedeljkovic thwarted a close-in try by Nathan MacKinnon with 1.6 seconds to play.

Colorado’s surge continued when play resumed, and Drouin sliced the Penguins’ advantage to one by scoring from the right dot at 3:32. MacKinnon got the primary assist, giving him at least one point in each of the Avalanche’s 34 home games this season.

Nedeljkovic was shaken up during a flurry around his net at 4:17 and, while he stayed in the game briefly, Tristan Jarry replaced him at 5:14.

Jarry denied Colorado a tying goal at 9:41, sprawling in the crease to stop a backhander from Valeri Nichushkin at the end of what had been a 3-on-1 break, but couldn’t stop MacKinnon from tying it, 4-4, at 15:22 on a shot from just outside the left dot.

Nedeljkovic, who had been checked in the Penguins’ room after leaving the game, replaced Jarry after MacKinnon scored the goal that forced overtime.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Monday. They will face Carolina Tuesday evening at PPG Paints Arena.