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Penguins Six-Pack: Harkins Checks In; Rakell’s Touch Returns

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Cal Petersen Sidney Crosby Tyson Foerster

This is not the first time Sidney Crosby has played in a game with violent momentum swings since he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005.

But there have not, he acknowledged, been very many quite like the Penguins’ 7-6 victory against Philadelphia Sunday at PPG Paints Arena.

“I remember one against Washington here years ago,” Crosby said. “It was 8-7, or something like that.”

That would have been Jan. 16, 2017, when the Penguins spotted the Capitals a 3-0 lead, then scored five unanswered goals, only to see Washington get the next two. After which the Penguins scored twice, only to have Washington force overtime by getting two goals in the final 11 minutes of regulation. (Including Lars Eller’s second of the game.)

Conor Sheary, a future Capital, won it for the Penguins 34 seconds into the extra period.

This game didn’t have quite as much drama, but there were multiple, major shifts in control.

Although the Flyers got their only lead when Travis Sanheim scored 2:11 into the first period, they hung with the Penguins throughout the game, despite falling behind by two goals on three separate occasions.

Philadelphia also was playing on consecutive days and was without defenseman Jamie Drysdale for the second half of the game.

“They keep coming,” Crosby said. “Give them credit. Down a (defenseman). Back-to-back games. With where they are (in the standings), it would have been easy to sit back a little bit. They didn’t. They kept coming.”

The Flyers just didn’t make it quite far enough, and the Penguins had a wild victory to savor on their postgame flight to Vancouver.

Here are some of the highs and lows from the Penguins’ victory:

Hard knocks

Games between the Penguins and Flyers generally include a healthy dose of hits — some legal, some not — and Penguins left winger Jansen Harkins delivered the most significant one on this day, knocking Philadelphia defenseman Jamie Drysdale out of the game with a crushing check in the neutral zone at 11:54 of the second period.

“I was just coming up late,” Harkins said. “He was trying to jump up, and I caught him with his head down. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but it was a good opportunity for me to play the body. Those things happen.”

Harkins was not penalized, but Flyers enforcer Nicolas Deslauriers was assessed a roughing minor for trying to get revenge on Harkins.

“Drawing penalties is something I bring to the team,” Harkins said.

Split decision

The Penguins power play had its best day in weeks … until it didn’t.

It capitalized on its first two full chances with the extra man, and probably looked as good as it has at any point in the season.

Things soured when Philadelphia got its league-leading 14th shorthanded goal of the season late in the second period, but overall, the Penguins were pleased with how they fared with the man-advantage.

“We felt great out there today,” Rickard Rakell said. “We let that shorthanded goal in, (but) we didn’t want to let that affect us. … I thought we had some good looks on the power play.”

The Penguins have scored four power-play goals in the past four games, adding a badly needed dimension to their underachieving offense.

“The power play has shown some signs of life … that I think is going to be real important moving forward,” coach Mike Sullivan said.

Not how they drew it up

The Penguins entered the game as the NHL’s best faceoff team, winning 55.7 percent of their draws.

Philadelphia, conversely, began the day in a five-way tie for 17th place in the league rankings, with a success rate of 49.4 percent.

Nonetheless, the Flyers bested the Penguins on faceoffs, going 32-29.

Philadelphia’s most important win at the dot likely came late in the second period, when Sean Couturier controlled a draw against Eller at the right dot in the Penguins’ end. He pulled the puck to Sanheim, who beat Tristan Jarry from above the right circle to cut the Penguins’ lead to 4-3 at 16:33.

Rack ’em up

Rakell has been filling in for Jake Guentzel, the first-line left winger who is on the Long-Term Injured list, but he wasn’t chosen to fill that role because he’s been on an offensive tear lately.

In fact, he hadn’t scored a goal in the Penguins’ previous 15 games, but broke that drought with a goal midway through the third period, throwing a shot past Philadelphia goalie Cal Petersen from along the goal line to the left of the net.

“It was a goal-scorer’s goal,” Sullivan said. “Right under the (cross)bar. … Those are the types of goals he’s capable of.”

Rakell also put up a pair of assists to finish with a season-high three points, but it is his ability to score goals that could be particularly valuable for the Penguins, with Guentzel — and possibly first-line right winger Bryan Rust — unavailable.

“We’re going to need everybody,” Crosby said. “It’s not going to be easy. We need everyone to contribute. It was great to see (Rakell) get one. … He’s got a great shot. If he gets those looks consistently, he’s going to score.”

A nice start

Emil Bemstrom, acquired in a trade with Columbus Thursday, scored the Penguins’ fourth goal, beating¬† Petersen from the bottom of the left circle while Deslauriers was in the penalty box.

He finished the game with three shots and one hit in 10 minutes, 50 seconds of ice time.

“I thought he was pretty good,” Sullivan said. “He obviously is coming to a new team, with a lot of new concepts. We tried to not give him too much, just give him the foundation of how we’re trying to play. He scores a nice goal on the power play. I think he’s going to help us there.”

And, in the process, help his former team, because the 2026 draft pick the Penguins gave up in the trade for Bemstrom will go from being a sixth-rounder to a third-round selection if he scores five more goals for the Penguins during the regular season.

O’Connor stays hot

Drew O’Connor isn’t the only reason the Penguins’ offense has been resurgent lately, but he’s part of it.

He scored the Penguins’ fifth goal, giving him nine for the season. Three of those have come in the past three games, as O’Connor continues to burnish his credentials as a legitimate top-six winger.

“The puck’s going in the net right now,” he said. “I don’t think I’m doing anything different. Sometimes, you get streak, and the puck starts going in. I’ll just try to ride that for as long as I can.”