This game was supposed to be about Kris Letang, who was appearing in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup for the first time in 2023.
About a half-hour before the opening faceoff of their game against Florida, however, the focus shifted to a guy who wasn’t in uniform: Tristan Jarry, who had been scheduled to start in goal for the Penguins, but was scratched because of an unspecified upper-body injury.
Mike Sullivan said after the game that he learned of Jarry’s issue, which still is being evaluated, when Jarry arrived at the arena for the game.
Jarry was replaced by Casey DeSmith, who stopped 33 of 39 shots in what became a 7-6 overtime victory against Florida at PPG Paints Arena.
Letang, meanwhile, was exceptional in his return to the lineup and scored the game-winner during a power play with 53.1 seconds left in overtime.
It was just the Penguins’ third victory in 11 games decided in overtime this season.
The Panthers, it must be noted, had goaltending concerns of their own. Their go-to guy, Sergei Bobrovsky, is injured and his backup, Spencer Knight, was either injured or ill, because he never showed up on the Florida bench after the game began.
That meant the Panthers had to turn to their No. 3, Alex Lyon, for the second night in a row.
Florida was coming off a 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Monday night and was playing for the third time in four days, but the Penguins were unable to exploit any fatigue the Panthers might have had early in the game, despite running up a 5-1 edge in shots.
Sam Reinhart put Florida in front, 1-0, at 6:42 of the opening period, as he beat DeSmith from along the goal line to the left of the net, and Matthew Tkachuk made it 2-0 at 8:11, putting in a shot from between the right circle and the crease while Marcus Pettersson was serving a holding minor.
The Penguins looked fairly lifeless at that point, but Rickard Rakell chipped a Letang shot past Lyon at 10:56 for his 18th of the season. Evgeni Malkin, who tipped Letang’s shot on its way to the net.
Letang’s assist on Rakell’s goal was his 400th at even-strength, making him the seventh player in franchise history to reach that milestone.
Just one minute after Rakell scored, Danton Heinen — who entered the evening with a 34-game goal-less streak — tied the game when he punched in a Ryan Poehling rebound for his fourth. The other assist went to Drew O’Connor.
Letang gave the Penguins a short-lived lead at 18:14 with his third. He was in the right circle and deflected a Brian Dumoulin shot from the right point by Lyon. Heinen also received an assist.
The Penguins’ advantage melted away quickly, however, as Carter Verhaeghe chased down a long lead pass from Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad and used one hand to chip it past DeSmith, who had come out of the crease in a futile attempt to beat Verhaeghe to the puck, and into the net 40.8 seconds before intermission.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a thoroughly unproductive power play at 5:02 of the second period, and an even worse one at 9:24, because the Panthers got a shorthanded goal.
Ekblad scored it at 10:34, charging down the right side of the slot before beating DeSmith cleanly.
The power play earned a measure of redemption in the final minute of the period, thanks to a strong individual effort by Crosby.
He collected a puck near the Florida blue line and charged to the net before tossing a backhander past Lyon with 40.6 seconds left. Jake Guentzel and Jeff Petry got assists.
Panthers center Colin White, in uniform only because Sam Bennett was injured in New York, broke a 4-4 tie at 4:10 of the third period, when he skated unimpeded from the left circle to the front of the net before sliding a forehand shot past DeSmith.
O’Connor pulled the Penguins even again at 10:29, when he took a pass from Poehling and, after putting his initial shot from close range off the left post, swatted it into the net for his third.
Malkin hammered a slap shot past Lyon from near the top of the right circle during a power play at 14:30 to put the Penguins on top, 6-5, off assists by Crosby and Letang.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as Verhaeghe tucked a shot inside the right post at 17:28 to force overtime.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are scheduled to practice Wednesday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry before traveling to Washington, where they will face the Capitals Thursday at 7:08 p.m.