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Winging it: Penguins Overwhelm Detroit, 6-3



Losing this game would not have eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins from contention for a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Not mathematically, anyway.

For all practical purposes, though, nothing shy of divine intervention would have been enough to get them in if they’d been beaten by Detroit Sunday.

And even that probably wouldn’t have done it.

Their situation clearly was desperate, at best, and the Penguins’ performance in their 6-3 victory against the Red Wings showed that they realized it.

They played with an urgency that has been evident only occasionally this season, and it yielded one of their most impressive showings in quite a while.

The victory lifted them to within five points of Detroit, which holds the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins (30-28-9) have a game-in-hand on the Red Wings, but also have two clubs, Washington and the New York Islanders, between them and Detroit in the Eastern standings.

The Penguins were awarded two power plays in the opening period, and nearly scored near the end of the first, but Red Wings goalie Alex Lyon gloved Evgeni Malkin’s shot from inside the right circle just as Austin Czarnik’s holding minor was expiring.

Detroit failed to capitalize on a 3-on-1 break about eight minutes into the game and seconds later, Malkin slid hard into the boards in the left-wing corner in the Penguins’ zone. He appeared to be shaken up and went gingerly to the bench, but returned during a man-advantage the Penguins got when Detroit center Andrew Copp was called for tripping at 8:10.

The Penguins didn’t score while Copp was serving his penalty, but got a go-ahead goal precisely two minutes after he was sent off.

Reilly Smith was credited with it, his 12th, when Marcus Pettersson’s shot from inside the left circle caromed off the inside of Smith’s right leg and past Lyon as he was facing the Detroit net.

The second assist went to Erik Karlsson, but Malkin initiated the scoring sequence by winning a faceoff in the right circle with six seconds remaining in Copp’s minor.

Emil Bemstrom had a chance to put the Penguins up by two on the next shift, but couldn’t beat Lyon on a breakaway.

That proved to be costly at 15:39, when Detroit winger Lucas Raymond beat Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic on the glove side from the left dot. The goal came on the Red Wings’ third of four shots in the period.

Sidney Crosby restored the Penguins’ lead at 18:53, controlling the puck with his right skate before putting a backhander between Lyon’s legs from below the left hash for his 33rd of the season and first in 12 games, snapping the second-longest drought of his career.

Crosby’s goal came after Nedeljkovic had stopped Detroit left winger Michael Rasmussen on another 3-on-1 break.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have routinely let down after scoring this season, but actually surged this time, and Valtteri Puustinen made it by beating Lyon from inside the right dot with 43.2 seconds to go before the intermission.

It was his fourth of the season and second in two games, and earned assists for Smith and Lars Eller.

Michael Bunting stretched the Penguins’ advantage to 4-1 at 9:34 of the second, knocking in a loose puck from in front of the net as he was falling to the ice. Puustinen and Malkin assisted on the goal, Bunting’s 15th of the season and second in six games since being acquired from Carolina in the Jake Guentzel trade.

Although the Penguins killed a hooking minor assessed to Drew O’Connor at 14:32, Detroit right winger Christian Fischer threw a shot by Nedeljkovic from between the hash marks at 17:35.

That goal rejuvenated Detroit, and the Red Wings carried the play for much of the remainder of the period.

At least until Rasmussen was sent off for cross-checking Marcus Pettersson at 19:01, anyway, because while Rasmussen was in the box, Lars Eller steered in a Crosby feed with 20.7 seconds to go before the intermission to put the Penguins back up by three.

Kris Letang received the second assist on the goal, Eller’s 14th.

O’Connor picked up a tripping minor at 15:21 of the third and Lyon was replaced by an extra attacker. Raymond beat Nedeljkovic from the inner edge of the right circle at 16:37 during that 6-on-4.

Detroit played most of the rest of the game without a goaltender, but the Penguins repeatedly failed to hit the open net until O’Connor managed it with 25.9 seconds left in regulation.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are not scheduled to practice Monday, but will travel to New Jersey for a game against the Devils Tuesday night in Newark.