Reflections of the way life used to be. The Colorado Avalanche are the highest scoring team in the NHL with the highest scoring line in hockey led by young Nova Scotia native Nathan MacKinnon and NHL leading scorer Mikko Rantanen. The young and talented Colorado made the Penguins look old and stiff, at least until Sidney Crosby single-handedly made the game competitive with a natural hat trick. Colorado survived the Penguins comeback, 6-3 at the Pepsi Center.
The Colorado top line staked the Avalanche to a 3-0 lead, then scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period when Gabriel Landeskog’s shot deflected off Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola and changed direction past Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry.
It was the Penguins first regulation loss in six games.
Crosby earned a natural hat trick in just 5:33. He scored two goals in the final minute of the second period. First, Crosby scored on a breakaway. Actually, Crosby scored by stuffing his own rebound on the breakaway through Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer.
“We didn’t give up, so that’s a good thing,” said Crosby. “When you put yourself in that position to get back in the game, you want to at least get a point out of it.”
Then, with eight seconds left in the second period, Crosby intercepted an Ian Cole pass and immediately fired it towards the net. The puck dribbled through Grubauer and instantly, the decided three-goal game was a competitive one-goal game.
And Crosby completed the natural hat trick by finishing off a Penguins swarm. The Penguins sustained offensive pressure came as the result of repeatedly shooting pucks to the net then winning battles for the loose pucks to keep possession. Right wing Dominik Simon zipped around Colorado defenders to win the puck and quickly centered it to Crosby.
“I thought Sid tried to will us a win. He was terrific. He was terrific all night long,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan.
Crosby reminded everyone, including his young friend and Nova Scotia neighbor MacKinnon, of why he holds a special place in hockey history.
NHL second-leading scorer MacKinnon, 23, was able to figuratively skate circles around the Penguins and in one case literally did so.
Leading 2-0 midway through the second period, MacKinnon raced through center ice past Penguins forwards and split Penguins defensemen, Jamie Oleksiak and Jack Johnson. Moments later, MacKinnon slipped a pass through a few Penguins to a charging Colin Wilson, who tapped the puck into a yawning cage.
The goal showcased the speed and talent of the 2013 first overall draft pick. The goal looked to be the backbreaker until Crosby showed up.
Colorado established their superiority, early. Midway through the first period, MacKinnon and Rantanen set up defenseman Samuel Girard in the slot. Girard took advantage of Jarry who was too deep in the net.
Five minutes into the second period, Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson scored from just inside the blue line but not without some protest. Colorado forward Vladislav Kamenev skated past the crease. Jarry felt he could not establish position to make the save, but the referees and video review disagreed. Kamenev didn’t enter the crease and didn’t make contact with Jarry–instead, it was Jarry who put his arms out to make contact with Kamenev.
Jarry otherwise played well including stopping Matt Calvert on a three-on-one in the first period and Matt Nieto on a breakaway. Jarry also did little to dissuade comparisons to former Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with several active poke checks.
MacKinnon scored the empty net goal after officials waived off an icing nor called Landeskog’s trip of Letang, who then shattered his stick across the post. Carl Soderberg scored a few seconds later after the Penguins reinserted Jarry.