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Another Third-Period Breakdown; Penguins Lose, 4-3, in Shootout



The Pittsburgh Penguins had to know that the streak was going to end at some point, that they were going to lose another game to Columbus eventually.

But they couldn’t have foreseen that it would happen like this.

Not when the Penguins, trying desperately to remain viable in the Eastern Conference playoff race, had a two-goal lead as the middle of the third period approached.

Not when the Blue Jackets, already mathematically out of playoff contention, were mired in a 1-7-2 slump that has them marooned near the bottom of the overall standings.

But that’s precisely how Columbus’ 4-3 shootout victory at Nationwide Arena played out.

Sidney Crosby was the only Penguins player to score during the five-round shootout. Rickard Rakell, Bryan Rust, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin were stopped.

Columbus defenseman Damon Severson got the shootout-deciding goal in Round 5. Alexandre Texier also scored for the Blue Jackets, while Johnny Gaudreau, Kirill Marchenko and Alex Nylander were denied by Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.

The loss dropped the Penguins’ record to 32-30-11, although it extended their streaks without a regulation defeat to Columbus at Nationwide to 4-0-2 and overall to 11-0-2.

Nedeljkovic made his fourth consecutive start, his longest such stretch of the season. He appeared in five games in a row in December, but one was in relief of Tristan Jarry.

The Penguins were credited with their first shot of the game at 4:45 of the opening period, but that actually was something that Reilly Smith just happened to put on Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins from the Penguins’ end of the ice.

They were awarded the first power play of the evening at 6:47, as Columbus winger Dmitri Voronkov was called for hooking.

The only score while he was off the ice came from Blue Jackets winger Mathieu Olivier at 7:47, to cap a 2-on-1 break with Cole Sillinger that began when Letang shanked a pass attempt inside the Columbus blue line.

It was the 11th shorthanded goal the Penguins have allowed this season.

The initial shot, by Sillinger, missed the net, but Olivier corraled the rebound and tucked it inside the right post while Nedeljkovic was tied up with Sillinger at the other side of the crease.

The Penguins challenged for goaltender interference, but a video review upheld the goal and the Penguins were assessed a delay-of-game minor.

They managed to kill that, as well as one Smith received for high-sticking at 10:38.

Columbus was credited with four shots on Nedeljkovic during that Smith penalty, and finished the period with a 13-11 edge.

Crosby had the Penguins’ best scoring chance of the period about 14 1/2 minutes in, when a Drew O’Connor pass put him a half-step behind the Blue Jackets’ defense, but Merzlikins gloved his backhander. Merzlikins also made a good stop on Smith from inside the right circle at 18:18.

Although the Penguins were called for the only two penalties during the second period, running the Blue Jackets’ streak of power plays to four, they also scored the only two goals during those 20 minutes.

O’Connor tied the game, 1-1, at 13:29, as he took a cross-ice feed from Rust and beat Merzlikins from inside the right circle for his 13th of the season. O’Connor has goals in three consecutive games for the second time in 2023-24.

Despite being unable to generate momentum off that goal because they had to kill a tripping minor Crosby got at 14:10, the Penguins took a 2-1 when Rust scored his 24th of the season from inside the left circle with 65 seconds to go before intermission.

Crosby initiated the scoring sequence by cleanly winning a faceoff from Voronkov in the left circle, pulling the puck back to Erik Karlsson. Karlsson gave it to Letang, who fed it to Crosby as he moved across the ice into the right circle, and Crosby slid it to Rust.

The only Penguins skater who did not play a part in the goal was Malkin, who was taking a shift in O’Connor’s spot with Crosby and Rust.

Crosby’s assist was his team-leading 79th point. Letang got the second assist.

The Penguins nearly padded their lead at 1:14 of the third period after a wild scramble in and around the Blue Jackets’ crease, but a lengthy video review concluded that the puck had not crossed the goal line.

Sillinger was called for slashing O’Connor at 4:59, but the Penguins failed to capitalize with the extra man. Then again, Columbus didn’t score during that time, either.

Rakell gave the Penguins a brief bit of breathing room when he threw a backhander by Merzlikins from the left hash mark at 8:59. Malkin got the lone assist on that goal, Rakell’s 12th.

But the Penguins, who have been plagued by poor shifts immediately after scoring this season, did it again in the wake of Rakell’s goal, as Marchenko scored from inside the left circle just nine seconds later. Letang appeared to lose his footing as he was trying to defend Marchenko.

That goal caused a dramatic change in momentum, and Zach Werenski made it 3-3 when he beat Nedeljkovic from below the left dot at 11:47 to force overtime.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Sunday. They will face the New York Rangers Monday evening at Madison Square Garden.