The Pittsburgh Penguins (35-14-9) started strong and finished strong. The second period was one they want to forget, but all is well that ends well as Mark Freidman and Bryan Rust scored third period goals and the Penguins pulled away for a 5-2 win at PPG Paints Arena on Friday night.
After an absentee second period, the Penguins found their footing early in the third period. The Jeff Carter line with 22-year-old rookie Valtteri Puustinen in his first NHL game and Brock McGinn struck for the second time. Vegas covered Carter and Brian Boyle on the Penguins rush, but defenseman Mark Friedman was undetected on the backside.
Friedman (1) ripped the clean look top-shelf past Vegas goalie Laurent Brossoit from the right-wing circle to give the Penguins a 3-2 third period lead.
Friedman had a goal, three shots, one hit, and nearly drove Vegas centerman William Carrier to murderous rage in front of the Vegas net.
“Like I said a few days ago, he’s a wildman,” Bryan Rust smirked when he spoke of Friedman.
On a later third period power play, Bryan Rust (20) provided the backbreaker when he was uncovered near the net. He got two whacks at the yawning cage.
Evan Rodrigues (17) scored for the first time since the 8th grade picnic when he tallied the empty netter. His last goal was Feb. 20, and Jan. 6 before that.
The Penguins were especially good in the first period and start of the second. They outshot Vegas 16-5 in the first period, outchanced them 10-4 and scored the only goal.
“I think it’s big for our confidence, especially coming out and having a good first period. I think that’s been the focal point of ours here. We had a great start,” Rust said. “And obviously not the greatest second period. But what we needed to do is win the third period. I thought that we came out strong and obviously ‘Freeds’ a huge goal and then two huge kills. And then we get one on the power play which was nice.”
Defenseman Mike Matheson was activated from the IR about one hour before game time and was immediately thrust onto the Penguins top pair with Kris Letang because Brian Dumoulin was a scratch.
Matheson had a few rushes and buried his best chance. Sidney Crosby spotted Matheson as the trailer in the slot. Matheson (8) ripped the high wrister past Brossoit.
Brock McGinn had a breakaway early in the second period. Brossoit made the save but couldn’t find the loose puck in his pads. Jeff Carter (14) was the first on the scene and poked the loose puck into the net.
Puustinen sprung McGinn on the breakaway. He earned his first NHL point in his first NHL game.
“My Finnish isn’t very good, but you know, we talked a little bit before the game, just about some draws and whatnot. His English isn’t great, so it’s a little tough, but he’s such a smart player,” Carter said of Puustinen. “…So you could tell that he’s just a smart player. He reads the game really well. I was very impressed with him tonight.”
However, the second period belonged to Vegas, which outshot the Penguins 15-4 in the first 15 minutes of the middle period.
About 90 seconds after the Penguins claimed the 2-0 lead, Vegas mounted a comeback. Matheson allowed Max Pacioretty a free pass to the Penguins net and Jack Eichel (4) was also uncovered for the rebound putback.
Midway through the second period, Vegas tied the game, again after Penguins’ defensive miscues. Three Penguins defenders converged on Vegas winger Jonathan Marchessault, leaving defenseman Alex Pietrangelo wide open. Pietrangelo (8) was at full speed and had no trouble whipping a point-blank shot past Tristan Jarry.
Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson was injured midway through the second period when he blocked a shot that first hit the inside of his knee and deflected off his jaw. After falling to the ice for a few moments, Pettersson immediately went to the locker room. He returned for the third period.
Vegas outshot the Penguins 22-7 in the second period. The good vibes and momentum built in the first 22 minutes quickly soured until Friedman’s tally.
Jarry stopped 39 of 41 shots. Brossoit was also very good. He turned aside 28 of 32.
Kasperi Kapanen and Dominik Simon were healthy scratches. Brian Dumoulin was also a scratch. Vegas has lost eight of 12 since Jack Eichel joined their lineup.
Head coach Mike Sullivan announced after the game that Brock McGinn will be out week-to-week with an upper body injury.