This was not, by almost any metric, a must-win game for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The 17th game of the regular season never is.
After all, it’s not as if a loss to Minnesota at the Xcel Energy Center Thursday night would have eliminated them from playoff contention.
But when a team has won just two of 11 games, as the Penguins had before facing the Wild, it can’t afford to wait much longer to begin accumulating points. Not if it expects to continue working after Game No. 82 of the regular season, anyway.
So while the Penguins (7-7-3) had more than a few hiccups — like giving up two goals in 12 seconds and allowing another while they were on a power play — they had to be generally pleased to pull out of a 0-1-1 skid with a 6-4 victory.
Sidney Crosby led the way with two goals and two assists, while Tristan Jarry stopped 19 of 23 shots to end a personal five-game losing streak. And the fourth line had a particularly strong showing.
P.O Joseph, who missed the previous three games because of an unspecified injury, returned to the lineup and worked opposite Jan Rutta on the No. 3 pairing. Joseph logged 16 minutes, four seconds of ice time.
Getting Joseph back meant the Penguins were not missing anyone because of injury and/or illness for the first time in a little more than three years.
Mike Sullivan also stuck with the reconfigured first and second lines he unveiled during practice Wednesday, with Rickard Rakell moving up to join Crosby and Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust working alongside Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker.
Crosby opened the scoring, which probably was predictable on a few levels.
Not only because he and his linemates had a miserable night during the Penguins’ 5-2 loss to Toronto Tuesday, but because Crosby makes a habit of getting the first goal of the game.
The one he scored at 8:15 of the first period, when he used Wild defenseman Jake Middleton as a screen and beat goalie Filip Gustavsson on the glove side, marked the fourth time he’s done it this season, which is good for a share of the league lead.
It also was the 100th of his career, tying Mario Lemieux’s franchise record.
Guentzel, who lunged to knock the puck ahead to Crosby in the neutral zone, and Rakell got assists.
Minnesota native Ryan Poehling made it 2-0 at 17:03, as he took a backhand, cross-ice feed from Teddy Blueger and buried a shot behind Gustavsson — who was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ second-round draft choice in 2016 and went to Ottawa in the disastrous Derick Brassard trade two years later — from inside the left circle.
The goal, which also netted an assist for Josh Archibald, was Poehling’s second of the season and first since Oct. 20.
The Penguins seemed to get a decent start in the second period … until Minnesota pulled even with two goals in 12 seconds.
Brandon Duhaime beat Jarry with a shot from high in the right circle at 4:31, and Joel Eriksson Ek made it 2-2 when his shot from the edge of the crease ended up bouncing off Jarry’s back and into the net.
Duhaime scored after Jarry had gone behind the net to play the puck — he got to it about a stride ahead of Marcus Pettersson — and Wild forward Marcus Foligno picked off his clearing attempt before it got to the blue line.
Archibald had a chance to put the Penguins back in front when he got a breakaway in the middle of the period, but he was unable to beat Gustavsson. They also failed to capitalize on a man-advantage awarded when Matt Dumba was called for hooking Brock McGinn at 12:39.
Blueger appeared to put the Pittsburgh Penguins ahead when an Archibald rebound caromed off him and into the net at 15:33, but the goal was waved off and Archibald was penalized for goaltender interference.
Although Archibald clearly ran into Gustavsson, it appeared that he did so after being shoved from behind by Wild winger Mats Zuccarello.
The power play came through a few minutes later, however, as Kris Letang drove a shot by Gustavsson from above the left hash during a 5-on-3. The goal was Letang’s first of the season; assists went to Crosby and Malkin, the latter of whom extended his scoring streak to five games.
Gustavsson kept the Wild within a goal when he denied Guentzel, who had gotten behind the Minnesota defense, just under five minutes into the third period, but Crosby got his second of the game at 5:50, while Duhaime was serving a slashing minor.
Crosby, at the right side of the crease, took a pass from Guentzel, who was along the goal line to the left of the net, and put a shot between Gustavsson’s legs. Jarry got the second assist.
The Penguins’ penalty-kill kept the two-goal lead intact by preventing Minnesota from capitalizing on a hooking minor assessed to Jeff Carter 15 seconds after Crosby scored.
The Penguins could have put the game away when Minnesota was penalized again at 11:13, but just 10 seconds later, Eriksson Ek beat Jarry from inside the right circle for a shorthanded goal that sliced the Penguins’ edge to 4-3.
McGinn restored the Penguins’ equilibrium — and probably calmed their nerves — at 14:33, when he used Wild defenseman Jon Merrill as a screen and threw a shot by Gustavsson from the high slot for his fifth of the season.
Guentzel then sealed the victory with an empty-netter at 16:31, although Dumba scored with 7.6 seconds to play to close out the scoring in a game the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t really have to win. But undoubtedly are delighted that they did, anyway.