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STAYIN’ ALIVE: Penguins Fend Off Wild, 4-1



The Pittsburgh Penguins beat one of the hottest teams in the NHL Thursday night, but didn’t gain any ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

What matters just as much, however, is that they made certain they wouldn’t lose any, either.

Their 4-1 victory against Minnesota at PPG Paints Arena allowed them to remain within one point of Florida and the New York Islanders, who are tied for the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers throttled Ottawa, 7-2, and the Islanders overwhelmed Tampa Bay, 6-1.

All three clubs vying for the two Eastern Conference wild-card berths have three games remaining, and the Panthers and Islanders both own the first tiebreaker (regulation victories) against the Penguins.

The Penguins were as focused and intense throughout the game as they have been in quite a while, which was reflected in the limited number of odd-man breaks they allowed.

“We did a much better job playing a calculated game,” Mike Sullivan said.

Jan Rutta returned to the Penguins’ lineup after sitting out the previous 10 games because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. He replaced Chad Ruhwedel on the No. 3 defense pairing, opposite Mark Friedman.

Forward Alex Nylander, who had been an emergency recall from the Penguins’ farm team in Wilkes-Barre earlier in the day, was sent back there after taking part in pregame warmups.

The Penguins had the better of play for most of the opening period, as evidenced by their 19-5 edge in shots.

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang scored the only goal of the first, as he beat Marc-Andre Fleury high on the short side from the outer edge of the right circle at 15:02 for his 11th of the season.

Brian Dumoulin and Jake Guentzel got the assists. Dumoulin’s assist was his 24th point, a career-high.

Twenty-nine seconds later, Wild defenseman Matt Dumba dropped Drew O’Connor with a late, and possibly high, hit, and was assessed an interference minor, but the Penguins failed to capitalize on the power play.

O’Connor was shaken up and, after finally getting back to his feet, went directly to the locker room, but returned for the start of the second period.

The Pittsburgh Penguins got another chance with the man-advantage when another Wild defenseman, Jonas Brodin, went off for interference at 3:47 of the second, but they failed to generate any significant pressure.

After the Penguins killed an interference minor given to Josh Archibald at 8:18, Brodin was caught interfering (what else?) with Jason Zucker, giving the Penguins their third opportunity with the extra man.

This time, they made the most of it, as Rickard Rakell hammered a slap shot past Fleury from above the left dot at 10:53. The Penguins effectively had a 5-on-3, because Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek had been hobbled when he blocked an Evgeni Malkin shot and was unable to get involved in the play or make it to the bench.

Minnesota outshot the Penguins, 13-5, in the second, and entered the third with 1:14 of power-play time remaining after a slashing call against Zucker 46.4 seconds before the intermission.

The Penguins, though, were able to get through that shorthanded situation unscathed and Zucker, a Wild alum, quickly made amends in a big way after he was freed.

At 2:58 of the third, he got a feed from Evgeni Malkin and drove a slap shot by Fleury from the top of the right circle at 2:58 to make it 3-0. The second assist went to Rakell.

Minnesota finally broke through during a 5-on-3 power play at 7:39, after Jeff Petry (6:48) and Bryan Rust (7:21) were penalized.

Marcus Johansson sliced the Penguins’ lead to 3-1 when his shot from the right side of the crease appeared to glance off Dumoulin’s skate and slip inside the left post.

The Wild pushed hard to beat Tristan Jarry again, but couldn’t generate a second goal and Jeff Carter deflected an O’Connor feed past Fleury on the backhand at 13:08 to restore the Penguins’ three-goal advantage.

After the game, the Pittsburgh Penguins called off the practice that had been scheduled for Friday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. They will travel to Detroit in the afternoon and face the Red Wings in a nationally televised game sometime after 1 p.m. Saturday.