Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby did not allow his team to sag further than their sleepy second-period performance. Crosby had three points with a mid-second period setup and a third period goal, and the Penguins secured their 16th consecutive playoff appearance by beating the New York Islanders 6-3 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night.
Jake Guentzel had four points (2-2-4), including an empty netter. Brock McGinn (12) scored the first empty netter, so Zdeno Chara’s late goal (1) did not matter.
Anders Lee and Chara popped the garbage time goals to dishevel reporters on a deadline, but Guentzel and McGinn responded with empty netters to clinch the game and the Penguins’ latest playoff appearance.
The Penguins lineup was a little more intact, though maybe not very healthy than it was on Tuesday night when Bryan Rust and Evan Rodrigues left the game due to non-COVID illness. Both players were game-time decisions and were able to play.
The Penguins top line paid dividends five minutes into the game. After circuitous puck movement at rapid speed, defenseman Kris Letang (8) used Crosby’s screen and whipped a shot over Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin.
Midway through the period, Danton Heinen took a slashing penalty after losing his man headed toward the net. However, Heinen made up for it in exactly two minutes. As Heinen exited the penalty box, Brian Boyle sprung him for a breakaway goal (16).
The Penguins were 31-5-3 when scoring first.
However, as good as the Penguins were in the first, they were flat in the second. At one point, they were being outshot 19-3 in the second, but the teams traded goals.
Chad Ruhwedel’s stick broke at the offensive blue line early in the middle period. Islanders star center Mathew Barzal did the rest. He fed adopted Penguins-killer Zach Parise with a slick pass across the slot. Parise (14) ripped it into the open net.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were opportunistic midway through the period. One bad pass by the Islanders in the offensive zone sprung Crosby and Jake Guentzel on a two-on-one. Guentzel (36) hesitated to pull Sorokin out of position, then finished the chance to give fans a free Big Mac, a half-priced Jake Shake, and other reasons to avoid the bathroom scale for a few days.
Midway through the third period, Crosby slammed the door.
Guentzel and Crosby played catch on a two-on-none before Crosby blasted a point-blank shot off Sorokin for a 4-1 lead. The inevitable feeling of the Penguins putting away the Islanders was palpable.
Anders Lee (26) scored with two-and-a-half minutes remaining to make it a little closer, 4-2 before the empty netters.
Tristan Jarry was solid. Despite the Penguins’ lackluster second period, he stopped 36 of 39. Sorokin stopped 22 of 26.
The Washington Capitals lost to Toronto on Thursday night, so the Penguins’ lead in the Metro is back to a solid five points, though Washington has two games in hand.