The Pittsburgh Penguins were playing their fourth game in six nights, had to travel after a disappointing defeat in Raleigh the night before and were starting a backup goaltender who had been on the Long-Term Injured list just a few hours before the opening faceoff.
And, oh yeah, their opponent just happened to be the defending Stanley Cup champions.
There have been quite a few games this season when the Penguins were a logical choice to win, and there will be plenty more as the season moves along.
This wasn’t one of them.
The Penguins overcame all of the adversity they faced — heck, they might even have fed off it — en route to a 3-0 victory over Vegas at PPG Paints Arena Sunday evening.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and hoisted the Penguins back above .500 (9-8).
Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, sprung from the Long-Term Injured list earlier in the day, stopped 38 shots to earn the shutout.
The only downside for the Penguins is that two players — Sidney Crosby (11 games) and Erik Karlsson — had significant scoring streaks end.
Before the game, coach Mike Sullivan and his staff decided to end their brief experiment with Rickard Rakell on the No. 3 line and Radim Zohorna on the second. Rakell moved back to his usual spot with Evgeni Malkin and Reilly Smith, while Zohorna returned to his usual place with Lars Eller and Drew O’Connor.
Also, Jeff Carter came back from his four-game exile as a healthy scratch, replacing injured right winger Vinnie Hinostroza on the fourth line.
Although the Penguins have had consistency issues in numerous parts of their game this season, there’s been at least one near-constant: They almost always score first.
They set a single-season franchise record by doing it for the ninth consecutive game Sunday, as defenseman Ryan Graves capped a scramble in the Golden Knights’ end by beating goalie Adin Hill from inside the left circle at 2:13 of the opening period.
Zohorna and O’Connor assisted on the goal, Graves’ first of the season.
The Penguins failed to fully capitalize on a man-advantage stemming from a holding minor to Vegas center Nicolas Roy 63 seconds after Graves scored, but unlike so many of their failed power plays this season, the Penguins had good, sustained pressure and actually seemed to generate momentum rather than losing it.
Nedeljkovic preserved the lead with a good stop on Vegas winger Jonathan Marchessault from just above the right hash at 7:03. That sequence began when Marchessault intercepted a Kris Letang pass inside the Penguins’ blue line.
The Penguins killed a slashing minor assessed to Carter at 9:31, although they had to survive some outstanding puck movement by Vegas to do so.
They got another chance with the extra man when Golden Knights defenseman Nicolas Hague was penalized for tripping at 18:06. This time, however, the Penguins looked utterly disjointed and were a threat only to themselves.
The lack of depth scoring has been an issue for the Penguins all season, which is part of the reason they had to be so glad when fourth-line center Noel Acciari made it 2-0 at 11:39 of the second.
He got a feed from linemate Matt Nieto and beat Hill from near the inner edge of the left circle for his first of the season.
The Penguins have been prone to giving up a goal a shift or two after getting one, but managed to avoid that after Acciari scored. They also killed another penalty, as Crosby was called for slashing at 13:26.
They were caught with too many men on the ice at 15:55 of the third, but managed to get through that unscathed, too, and Malkin hit an empty net at 18:42 to clinch the victory.
Jake Guentzel assisted to run his scoring streak to eight games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a scheduled day off Monday.