The story was written. It was to be another surprising win for the Pittsburgh Penguins and a hat trick by Kasperi Kapanen taking the headlines, but with just two seconds remaining and the extra attacker, Minnesota Wild winger Ryan Hartman scored the tying goal to force OT.
Neither team scored in OT. Former Penguins forward Nick Bjugstad scored the shootout winner and Minnesota Wild beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in a shootout at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday.
The Penguins are without their top stars, some to COVID, others to injury. They are even missing their head coach, Mike Sullivan. However, any expectation that the steady pour of bad news would eventually crack the resilient bunch has proven to be unfounded.
They earned a point with the disappointing OT and shootout. The Penguins squandered the late two-goal lead as Minnesota scored a pair of goals with the goalie pulled. It wasted a hat trick by Kapanen.
Kapanen has been mired in a head-drooping slump. He was limited to four assists in the first nine games and, more importantly, no goals.
On Monday, Kapanen admitted Sullivan has been hard on him to spur his game. After a little chip pass early in the period that almost resulted in a scoring chance, Kapanen got to his game.
Jason Zucker was on the spot late in the first period. He intercepted a pass around the wall and quickly put the puck to open space in front of the net. Kapanen (1) was uncovered and quickly smiling like a butcher’s dog as he deked to the forehand for his first goal of the season.
About two minutes later, Kapanen was the trailer on a three-wide rush. A little drop pass by Evan Rodrigues became a Kapanen (2) blast to the far post.
The Penguins three-unanswered goals continued to the middle of the second period. Jeff Carter won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly, and Jake Guentzel (3) roofed a wrister from the slot for a 3-1 lead.
The Penguins did have some lapses and sketchy moments in the first period, too. Minnesota leading Kirill Kaprizov was uncovered near the Penguins net. After defenseman P.O. Joseph failed to vigorously defend Frederick Gaudreau near the net, Gaudreau’s deflection hit the post and bounced to an incontested Kaprizov (2), who easily scored.
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry was very good, again. His lunging blocker save on Ryan Hartman’s well-placed snapshot late in the first period sprung the Penguins breakout for Kapanen’s second goal.
Minnesota closed the gap late in the second period. Jared Spurgeon’s (2) shot was deflected and bounced through Jarry. 3-2.
But it was Kapanen’s night/ completed the hat trick midway through the third period. As a Penguins power play expired, Kapanen ripped a shot off the crossbar. It caromed off a Minnesota defender and into the net. “Big” Jeff Carter was in front of the net, and after a moment of hesitation, Carter emphatically pointed to Kapanen, and the home crowd erupted.
With an extra attacker, Minnesota and Spurgeon (3) scored again through traffic. Jarry lost sight of the puck through a few bodies, and Minnesota made it interesting.
Jarry made a few sparkling saves in the final minute, including a point-blank chance on Kaprizov with three minutes remaining. However, exhausted Penguins defenseman Kris Letang committed a turnover behind the net in the final seconds. Hartman won the puck and the battle for the game-tying goal.
Jarry stopped 32 of 36 shots in regulation and 35 of 39 shots overall. The Penguins had a pair of breakaways in OT. Jason Zucker and John Marino could not convert. Cam Talbot also stopped 35 of 39.
The Penguins’ season-long eight-game homestand is over. They are in Florida on Tuesday before returning home next Thursday.
Bryan Rust returned to the lineup for the first time since he suffered an injury in the second game of the season.