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Whew, Pengiuns Survive Blown Lead, Beat Wild 4-3



Pittsburgh Penguins game, 4-3 win vs. Minnesota Wild

The Pittsburgh Penguins (14-13-3) showed their strengths and weaknesses within minutes of the other. A clean and effective effort staked them a 3-0 lead in the first 24 minutes, but sloppy mistakes and blown defensive coverages allowed the Minnesota Wild (12-13-4) to erase that margin within 11 minutes covering the late second period and early third.

A 3-0 lead became a 3-3 game before Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scored a power-play goal about 90 seconds after Minnesota tied it. The Penguins regrouped for a 4-3 win at PPG Paints Arena.

Penguins rookie Valtteri Puustinen had two primary assists to spring the Penguins to their three-goal lead.

Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic made his seventh start this season. He finished the Penguins’ disastrous loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in relief of Tristan Jarry on Saturday. He made a couple of important saves in the first period, allowing the Penguins to stabilize their game, and stopped 25 of 28 shots, including a slapper at the horn. His record improved to 4-2-1.

The Penguins lineup got a little jolt Monday when the team activated winger Rickard Rakell from the LTIR and Noel Acciari from IR. Rakell immediately filled the void beside Crosby on the Penguins’ top line. Acciari centered the Penguins fourth line.

However, it was Puustinen who jumpstarted the sluggish Penguins earlier in the first period. After the team narrowly avoided a couple of dangerous scoring chances, Puustinen created a turnover behind the Minnesota net. Reilly Smith (8) had an uncontested chance near the crease and beat Minnesota goalie Filip Gustavsson with a swooping backhand.

The team also reinserted defenseman Chad Ruhwedel into the lineup Monday. Ruhwedel was activated from IR two days ago, but this was his first game since Nov. 19.

The Penguins raced to a 3-0 lead by the middle of the second period. They were methodical, controlled, and effective, but don’t worry, that’s merely an ominous foreshadowing for later in the second period.

In the first minute of the second period, Jake Guentzel (14) deflected Erik Karlsson’s point shot for a power play goal.

Three minutes later, defenseman Marcus Pettersson’s pass glides through a lane at center ice, springing Valtteri Puustinen and Evgeni Malkin on a two-on-one.

Puustinen fooled everyone, including Gustavsson, sliding a late pass to Malkin (11) for a 3-0 lead and Puustinen’s second primary assist of the game. He has four assists in five games this season and five assists in six career NHL games.

However, Minnesota didn’t remain dormant, nor did the Penguins remain controlled and mistake-free.

In the final five minutes of the second period, the Penguins left Ryan Hartman (8) uncovered on the rush, and he easily snapped a wrist shot past Nedeljkovic.

Two minutes later, Minnesota victimized the Penguins’ top line for the second time when the Penguins overloaded on a wall battle in the defensive zone. Minnesota won the puck, and there was no one to stop pinching Minnesota defenseman Jake Middleton (9), who easily beat Nedeljkovic to slash the Penguins’ lead to 3-2.

A lethargic Penguins power play at the beginning of the third period further increased the decibels of the foreboding soundtrack.

Just five minutes into the third period, Minnesota erased the Penguins’ lead entirely when Vinni Lettieri (3) was uncovered in front of the Penguins’ net and deflected Jon Merril’s shot.

It was back to square one until the Penguins frequent hero, Crosby, scored the go-ahead goal. MVP.

Gustavsson started the game, rather than former Penguins goalie and still fan favorite Marc-Andre Fleury. By the middle of the first period, the Pittsburgh fans were chanting, “We want Fleury!”. Gustavsson made 25 saves.