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Penguins Room: No Quit, ‘We’re Still in This Fight’



Rickard Rakell

NEWARK, N.J. — The Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff chances were barely visible to the naked eye before their game against New Jersey at Prudential Center Tuesday night.

And they were a whole lot smaller by the time the second intermission rolled around.

The Devils had a 3-1 lead then, and could have been significantly farther ahead if not for some inspired work by Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.

The Penguins were playing their third game in four days, while the younger, faster Devils had been off since Friday, and the Penguins were dealing with an illness that’s been moving through their roster.

A comeback didn’t just seem unlikely; it was a lot closer to unthinkable.

Even so, Penguins players said they were unwilling to write this game off after 40 minutes.

“We just said to ourselves, ‘Give it a chance. Anything can happen,” defenseman Marcus Pettersson said.

And then, anything did. Repeatedly.

The Penguins, so often victimized by late-game collapses this season, ran off five unanswered goals during the third period to claim a 6-3 victory. It isn’t likely to be enough to let them salvage their season and qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it at least keeps them in the conversation a little longer.

“I thought it was a gutsy effort by our guys,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We could tell early on that we didn’t have a lot of energy. … That game in New York (a 5-2 victory over the Rangers Monday) took a lot out of our guys.”

Not so much, though, that the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t rally against a team they had failed to defeat in the previous seven meetings and, in the process, keep their playoff prospects alive heading into a game at Washington Thursday.

“We’re still in this fight,” Pettersson said. “We have a huge game coming up against a team that we’re chasing.”

Rickard Rakell

Rickard Rakell scored the game-winner by deflecting a Pettersson pass behind Devils goalie Jake Allen to snap a 3-3 tie at 16:16 of the third period, but he is one of many who believe that Sidney Crosby’s power-play score earlier in the third is what turned the momentum in the Penguins’ favor.

“The power-play goal got us going,” Rakell said. “Made it a one-goal game.”

Evgeni Malkin made it a tie game little more than a minute later, setting the stage for Rakell and Pettersson to team up on the sequence that put the Pittsburgh Penguins on top to stay.

“We were kind of looking at each other,” Rakell said, smiling. “I just tried to find a lane for him, and it was perfect, a perfect shot-pass. And it was so nice to see it go in.”

Marcus Pettersson

The Penguins had a chance for that improbable comeback during the final 20 minutes only because Nedeljkovic played so well during the first 40.

Nedeljkovic, making his sixth consecutive start, faced just five shots in the third period, much of which was played at the other end of the rink.

But the Devils launched 21 at him during the first and second, and he made several outstanding stops — like one on Dawson Mercer, who was unchecked in front of the Penguins’ crease — that kept the Penguins close enough to make a comeback viable.

“He was huge,” Pettersson said. “He made some unbelievable saves. He’s played a lot of hockey here lately.”

Mike Sullivan

The Penguins have been on the wrong side of a lot of third-period comebacks like the one they staged against the Devils.

And while they’ve probably been guilty of failing to protect leads more often than most clubs, Mike Sullivan said that teams wiping out significant deficits isn’t all that rare in today’s NHL.

“It’s amazing, the volatility of games,” he said. “There are no safe leads in this game anymore. You see two-goal deficits get erased on a regular basis around the league. Tonight was another example of that.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ back-to-back victories against the Rangers and Devils seem to have invigorated their locker room.

“I think our guys are excited, because we’re playing meaningful hockey,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to give ourselves a chance. We’re trying to stay in the fight. As I’ve said to them, ‘Anything can happen. Let’s focus on the one game in front of us. Let’s try to take care of business each and every night, and see where it goes.’ ”

Jack St. Ivany

Based on his work during his first seven games in the NHL. Jack St. Ivany is unlikely to ever see Wilkes-Barre again, unless he is assigned there to get some playoff experience this spring or opts to vacation in northeastern Pennsylvania someday.

He played 15:45 against the Devils, recording two hits and an assist, his first point in the NHL.

For the second game in a row, St. Ivany worked alongside Ryan Shea, who also has limited experience at this level, because St. Ivany’s usual partner, John Ludvig, is ill.

And for the second game in a row, that pairing acquitted itself well.

“They play well together,” Sullivan said.

That might be, at least in part, because they also were a pairing in the American Hockey League.

“We’ve got some chemistry together,” St. Ivany said. “Things have gone really well. We talk a lot, every time we get off the ice.”