CHICAGO — The Pittsburgh Penguins did not build on their patient, structured win from Saturday night. Instead, a late goal by Sidney Crosby rescued the Penguins (9-7-3), which otherwise out-talented the gritty but undermanned Chicago Blackhawks (6-9-3) at the United Center Sunday night, 5-3.
The emotion of Evgeni Malkin reaching game No. 1000 with a visit from his family and winning their third in a row contrasted with another sloppy game. Before the game, the team copied Malkin’s stretching routine, further adding to the moment.
“It was an emotional night. It was a little bit hard for me,” Malkin said before getting emotional. “I’m glad we won. (My son) got to see me score a goal. It was a great memory for my family and me. I hope I stay here all of my life. It’s an amazing team. Amazing organization.”
Crosby had four points and rescued the big night, including the game-winning goal later in the third period, and set up the empty netter to seal their third straight win. Crosby had 10 points on the three-game road trip, but he was also a possible culprit on a couple of the goals.
On the flip side, Crosby spoiled the jersey retirement night of Marian Hossa, who was honored for nearly an hour before the game by Chicago Blackhawks past and present.
Importantly, the Penguins won all three games on the road trip, but they tried a few times to give away the win Sunday.
“I don’t know how to digest this one or how to assess this one,” coach Mike Sullivan admitted following the game. “But we’re pleased with the result.”
Both teams were on the second of back-to-backs, but Chicago pressured the Penguins for most of the game, while the Penguins finished their few chances at the beginning of the first and second periods.
The Penguins’ shot total was in the teens until late in the third period, though the Penguins had slightly more scoring chances and significantly more high-danger chances, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
The Penguins continued their energetic run from Saturday night early in the first period. The Penguins turned sloppy Chicago neutral zone play into a three-on-two rush. Rickard Rakell set up Brock McGinn (6) for a one-timer from the slot and an early lead.
However, the Penguins fell victim to trying to play on the rush, and it was their turn to get sloppy. For the remainder of the first period, the Penguins chased the puck and Chicago. Casey DeSmith was the Penguins saving grace, pun intended. After a good Penguins start, Chicago earned 12 of the next 15 shots in the first period, including eight scoring chances and three high-danger shots. DeSmith stopped all 16 shots in the first period.
Just as they did in the first, the Penguins were crisp at the beginning of the second. They scored twice in the first three minutes.
Evgeni Malkin played in his 1000th game. He scored the Penguins’ second goal when Ryan Poehling streaked the length of the ice, circled the net, and delivered a tape-to-tape pass to Malkin (8), who immediately buried it behind Chicago goalie Arvid Soderblom.
“You’ve got to play the game, but it’s like only one or two in your life,” said Malkin. “There was lots of emotion, thinking in your head. (Once the game started), I was only thinking about winning. It was more important to win — I wanted to score– but we wanted two points.”
Sidney Crosby and the gang worked the puck quickly around the offensive zone. Crosby zipped a cross-ice pass to Rickard Rakell (8), who netted the one-timer.
“I thought it was a great kind of lead-up to the game with the warm-up and Nikita (Malkin’s son) being here,” Crosby said. “And yeah, I’m sure it was a lot of thoughts going through his mind, but capped it off with the win, and that makes it extra special. And it was pretty, pretty emotional.”
And just like the first period, the Penguins lost the script after scoring. Things could have gotten away if not for a few more saves by DeSmith.
Midway through the second period, Jason Dickinson intercepted Jake Guentzel’s breakout pass, swept across the crease, and dropped it to Jujhar Khaira (2), who popped it into the net. Letang nor Crosby covered Khaira. One of them probably should have. 3-1.
It was the start of the Penguins’ mistakes and defensive breakdowns, including on the power play. The clean and patient Penguins from Saturday returned to the mistake-prone team that has bedeviled coach Mike Sullivan this season.
Later in the period, Patrick Kane was left uncovered on the Penguins’ doorstep. Kane (3) easily beat DeSmith to cut the Penguins’ lead to 3-2.
However, Chicago pressured the Penguins, and the tying goal seemed inevitable until it was finally scored with about four minutes remaining. Philipp Kurashev scored unassisted, and it seemed the Penguins’ specter of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory would arise until Sidney Crosby did what the captain does.
He rescued the Penguins.
Crosby and Guentzel worked a give-and-go near the goal line, and Crosby put back a rebound around Soderblom. Game set and match. Jeff Carter (3) scored the empty netter.
PHN will add a postgame locker room reaction to the story shortly.
The Mistakes, Mistakes, Mistakes
Crosby and Kris Letang had a couple of defensive miscues later in the second period that led directly to Chicago goals. The Penguins top players allowed open men to score near the Penguins’ net.
The defensive mistakes yielded good Chicago chances, even if Chicago didn’t bury them or even hit the net.
The conflict of emotion and below-par play created conflict with Sullivan.
“It was an emotional game for everyone because everyone knows what it means to Geno. And it was particularly emotional for Geno,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think that excuses the fact that we have to be better in a lot of areas of our game, and we all know that the standard is higher than the way we played out there tonight. But I give the players a lot of credit for finding a way to win.”
After a solid night against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, which drew praise, the Penguins’ man advantage again fell in love with the ineffective slow play. They had three shots on two power plays, but the second power play was nearly disastrous, with a shorthanded breakaway near the end of the period.
Chicago was aggressive, and the Penguins’ power play was flat-footed.
Excuse or Legit?
I was ready to blast the Penguins in this postgame analysis. It wasn’t until we talked with Mike Sullivan that the big picture emerged. The Penguins were distracted. It was a big night, the second of back-to-backs, an inferior opponent on the road, yet the Penguins won.
So, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I was ready to make it out to be?
It was a night of milestones and honors.
Marian Hossa, whom the Penguins acquired at the NHL trade deadline in 2008 but lost to free agency that summer to the Detroit Red Wings, was honored before the game. Hossa later signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and won three Stanley Cups (2010, 2012, 2015). Chicago retired Hossa’s No. 81 with an elaborate ceremony, which began 90 minutes before the faceoff and delayed the start of the game.