Malkin Magic Saves Penguins, 4-3, After Late-Game Implosion
Evgeni Malkin took a third-period penalty that could have played a prominent role in costing the Pittsburgh Penguins a victory Saturday night.
He then scored the goal that made that victory possible.
Malkin broke a 3-3 tie with a sensational individual effort at 18:40 of the third period, stealing the puck at center ice and charging into the Washington zone before beating Capitals goalie Darcy Kuemper from inside the right circle.
“Usually when the stakes are high, that’s when he’s at his best,” Mike Sullivan said.
That goal wiped out a three-goal surge Washington staged in the third period.
The Penguins’ 4-3 win at PPG Paints Arena Saturday night, coupled with the New York Islanders’ 2-0 loss at home to Buffalo, lifted the Penguins to within a point of New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff field. The Penguins have a game in hand on the Islanders.
Because Florida lost at home to the New York Rangers, the Penguins’ cushion over the Panthers swelled to three points.
The Capitals and Sabres trail the Penguins by six points.
Neither team scored during the opening period, when the Penguins rebounded from a slow start to finish with a 15-9 edge in shots after Washington was credited with the first four.
The Penguins had the first two power plays — Nicolas Aube-Kubel was called for holding at 4:48 and T.J. Oshie was sent off for tripping at 9:47 — but failed to take advantage of either.
They generated one shot on their first man-advantage, four on the second.
Washington got its first chance with the extra man when Kris Letang was called for high-sticking at 14:28, but was unable to convert that opportunity.
Despite the lack of goals, there was no shortage of chances at either end.
Capitals center Dylan Strome had one of the best about five minutes into the second period, but Casey DeSmith stopped his shot and Rasmus Sandin put the resultant rebound wide of the net.
Four minutes later, DeSmith came up with an even better save, when he denied John Carlson from inside the left circle after Carlson received a cross-ice feed from Alex Ovechkin.
The stalemate finally was broken by an unlikely source, considering the offensive star power on both side — Ryan Poehling, the Penguins’ third-line center, who had not scored since Jan, 28.
He took a long feed from Danton Heinen and got behind the Capitals, then fended off Sandin before sticking a shot under the crossbar behind Washington goalie Darcy Kuemper at 10:10 for his sixth of the season.
“I thought he really showed his speed on that goal,” Sullivan said.
Just over two minutes later, an even more unlikely goal-scorer made it 2-0.
That would be Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who had not scored in his previous 44 games, a drought extending back to April 23, 2022.
He beat Kuemper with a wrist shot from high in the right circle at 12:17. Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund received assists.
“It’s a huge goal for us,” Sullivan said. “It’s a huge goal for him.”
Sandin’s difficult period got considerably worse at 17:03, when Penguins winger Josh Archibald rag-dolled him in a fight near the Washington blue line.
DeSmith preserved the Penguins’ lead with 2:15 to go until the intermission, when he stopped Ovechkin on a breakaway with his left skate
DeSmith then put an exclamation point on a spectacular 40 minutes by thwarting Washington on a shorthanded flurry as time expired in the second.
Jake Guentzel made it 3-0 with an unconventional power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period.
A pass by Capitals winger Tom Wilson hopped over the stick of teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk in the neutral zone and went directly to Guentzel, who broke in alone and buried a shot behind Kuemper for his 32nd.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to put the game away when Ovechkin was penalized for slashing at 3:42 of the third, but that was negated when Malkin was called for roughing at 4:20.
Wilson ended DeSmith’s shutout bid during the 4-on-4 that resulted, knocking in an Evgeny Kuznetsov feed while standing in the crease to cap a sequence that began with a Kris Letang turnover.
The Capitals continued to surge when Ovechkin hammered a slap shot past DeSmith from the top of the left circle at 13:18, four seconds after Poehling was sent to the penalty box for tripping to make it 3-2.
“All of a sudden, it’s a hockey game,” Sullivan said.
Washington pulled even at 17:16. when Strome backhanded a shot past DeSmith from left of the crease, setting the stage for Malkin’s heroics.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Sunday. They are expected to practice Monday at 11 a.m. at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex before traveling to Detroit for a game against the Red Wings Tuesday night.