The Pittsburgh Penguins looked on as Minnesota honored their former teammate, Marc-Andre Fleury, with a pregame ceremony at Xcel Energy Center Friday night.
They spent at least some of the first two periods that followed as interested onlookers, too, which is part of the reason they departed St. Paul with a 3-2 defeat.
The energy and urgency that had been so evident during a 3-0 victory against Winnipeg Tuesday night seemed to be missing for part of those 40 minutes, as the Penguins’ modest two-game winning streak was snapped and their record dropped to 23-18-7.
The loss was the Penguins’ first in 11 games against the Wild; they had been 9-0-1 in the previous 10, including four victories in a row at Xcel Energy Center.
Fleury, playing in his first game since being injured Jan. 19, finished with 33 saves.
He did some of his best work during the final one minute, 50 seconds of regulation, when Minnesota was shorthanded and the Penguins had replaced goalie Alex Nedeljkovic with an extra attacker.
Sidney Crosby scored the Penguins’ second goal to extend his scoring streak to nine games.
Colin White filled in for Noel Acciari, who has a concussion, at center on the Penguins’ fourth line.
The Penguins, who scored twice during a five-minute power play against Winnipeg Tuesday, got four minutes with the man-advantage just 25 seconds after the opening faceoff, as Minnesota defenseman Jake Middleton was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins, though, were unable to capitalize and generated just three shots on Fleury before Middleton returned.
Minnesota got a similar opportunity when Lars Eller received a double-minor for high-sticking Middleton at 10:35, and fared better than the Pittsburgh Penguins had.
The Penguins killed the front end of those four minutes, but Wild winger Matt Boldy threw a shot past Nedeljkovic from just above the right hash mark at 12:57.
Minnesota defenseman Dakota Mermis was sent off for interference at 15:05, but the Penguins were credited with just one shot before his penalty expired.
Erik Karlsson was called for tripping with 9.6 seconds to go before the intermission, and Nedeljkovic had to make an outstanding right-skate save on Joel Eriksson Ek to keep the Penguins within one when the period ended.
Reilly Smith spoiled Fleury’s shutout bid at 2:54 of the second period, as he took a cross-ice feed from Evgeni Malkin and beat Fleury from above the right hash for his ninth of the season and first in 12 games.
Smith had scored his most recent goal against the Wild, Dec. 18 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Wild reclaimed the lead at 6:12, when Jonas Brodin beat Nedeljkovic with a turning shot from the slot while the teams were playing 4-on-4. Brodin beat Kris Letang while coming out of the left corner, then got past Marcus Pettersson on his way to the slot.
Crosby tied the game — and moved into sole possession of 21st place on the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring list — during a power play 61 seconds into the third period. He was hanging near the left side of the crease and steered in a pass by Karlsson from the right point for his 28th of the season.
It moved him past long-ago teammate Mark Recchi on the league’s all-time list. Jake Guentzel got the second assist.
Kirill Kaprizov restored Minnesota’s advantage at 9:34 when he swiped in a Zach Bogosian rebound.
The Penguins immediately challenged that the puck had struck the netting in the end zone during the sequence that culminated in Kaprizov’s goal, but after a lengthy review, the NHL’s Situation Room determined “there was no conclusive evidence to show the puck left the playing area after it struck the glass behind the Pittsburgh net.”
Because their challenge failed, the Penguins were assessed a delay-of-game penalty, but they were able to kill that.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will complete their two-game road trip when they visit Winnipeg Saturday at 7:08 p.m. Eastern.