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Penguins Room: Comeback Escapes Disaster, ‘Would Have Been Deflating’

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Bryan Rust

The Pittsburgh Penguins were in control of the Monday game against the lowly Anaheim Ducks until they weren’t. They were tied or led for about 56 minutes, peppered goalie John Gibson with 44 shots in regulation, but late lapses spotted Anaheim a 3-2 lead in the final few minutes.

Another blown third period lead. Another disaster on the heels of mounting losses. The doomsday clock was about to move closer to midnight.

Until Bryan Rust scored with 25 seconds remaining to tie the game.

Until Ducks winger Trevor Zegras muffed a breakaway in the opening seconds of overtime, and Sidney Crosby sprang Jake Guentzel on the resulting odd-man rush.

“I know (Zegras) is the shootout master. I saw Strome there, backdoor,” Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith said. “I didn’t think he was going to give it to him. And then he tried, and I don’t think Strome thought he would give it to him. (I) got lucky there and, you know, thankfully (Guentzel) buried it on the other end for us.”

And until Guentzel roofed a nasty wrister over Anaheim goalie John Gibson. And the Penguins escaped with a 4-3 OT win over Anaheim at PPG Paints Arena.

A loss that would have sent the fans scurrying for a Twitter meltdown, the players to the mirror for some soul searching, and perhaps the GM to the phone quickly became a feel-good win for the Penguins.

“It’s a huge win for us, especially with how it evolved. We had a lot of chances throughout the game, but we couldn’t find the back of the net,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “When they scored four and a half minutes to go in the game, given the circumstances … and what our team’s been through here over the last little while, in a lot of instances, that could really deflate the team.

“But I never sensed that on the bench. I thought our leadership was terrific. There was a lot of talk about getting it done and responding in the right way.”

The Penguins handed sure victory to the Ducks then took it back.

The Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room:

DeSmith made 26 saves, but several of the game-saving variety. DeSmith faced Zegras barreling down on him and didn’t give ground. Perhaps DeSmith, not showing weakness, put the thought into Zegras’ head to attempt to pass to Ryan Strome, which he did to both DeSmith’s and Strome’s surprise.

The importance of the comeback was not lost on DeSmith, who acknowledged the potential emotional fallout if the Penguins didn’t avert disaster.

“Every win is important. Every point is important at this point for us. So it was really good for our confidence to pull that one out,” DeSmith said. “That would have been pretty deflating. We’re desperate for every point now, and we have a lot of guys stepping up.”

 

Rickard Rakell:

The long-time Anaheim Duck had three assists as the Evgeni Malkin line was dominant. Malkin had two points (1-1-2) but carried the play. Rakell and Jason Zucker buzzed around the offensive zone.

The line had 21 shot attempts, 14 shots, 12 scoring chances, an astounding 11 high-danger chances, and two goals.

When Malkin is rolling, it changes the entire game. Rakell had seen it before and knew how to maximize the effort.

“It’s just trying to feed off his energy and feed off his confidence,” said Rakell. “He pulled so many guys toward him. So me and (Zucker) got some more time with the puck out there — and (we were) just trying to make some plays.”

 

Bryan Rust:

Rust was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins top line that was a bit mediocre until later in the third period. Through 40 minutes, the line had only two scoring chances and had only one more in the third period at 5v5.

It was a quiet night for the Penguins trio with Crosby in the middle until they swarmed the net with the goalie pulled and precious seconds counting down to what could have been an enormous loss, both on the scoreboard and emotionally.

It was going to be a disaster until Rust poked the puck past Gibson.

“We had been getting a lot of chances,” Rust said. “We had been pushing fairly well, and how things have been going … They got a couple in the third. Instead of getting on our heels and kind of deflating, we decided to get going. Feels like a huge effort.”

Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.