Don’t make Sidney Crosby angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.
Late in regulation, New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac escaped a penalty despite using the butt-end of his stick to jab Crosby’s ribs in the faceoff circle. It could have been a major penalty. Instead, it was motivation for the Penguins captain.
The Penguins dominated the final minutes of the third period before Crosby scored a spectacular game-winning goal just 19 seconds into overtime. Crosby’s wrist shot from the left circle hit the post behind Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid. As the puck fluttered towards the slot, Crosby whacked the puck out of the air into the goal.
Just like that, the Penguins beat the Devils, 4-3, at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Just another ridiculous goal by an all-time great.
This season, the Devils beat the Penguins in their three previous chances but Thursday the Penguins seemed intent on returning the favor to the Metro Division upstarts. And, the Devils were intent on establishing themselves. The resulting collision created a game of transition chances, pretty goals, and a Penguins statement.
“It’s two teams that are starting to hate each other,” Kris Letang said. “Everybody was fighting for points tonight. They were two crucial points for us and Sid came up big for us again. It was one of our best efforts of the year.”
Despite a strong start by the Penguins, the Devils struck first.
Midway through the first period, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel played hot potato with the puck at the Devils blue line. Kessel skated backward towards the blue line and the Devils pounced with their quick transition game. 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier stole the puck and slipped it past the Penguins to Kyle Palmieri (24), who scored the breakaway goal under Matt Murray.
The Penguins responded quickly. Just 23 seconds later, Conor Sheary continued his outstanding stretch run. Patric Hornqvist, who was juggled to the third line with Sheary and Riley Sheahan in the absence of Derick Brassard, created a turnover at center ice and rushed into the Devils zone.
Sheary was uncovered and Hornqvist made a last second pass to Sheary (16) who chipped it into the net.
The Penguins largely owned the second period but ended the period tied 2-2.
“This was our best 60 minutes in a long time,” said Hornqvist. “(The playoffs) is going to be a fun run here.”
The Penguins claimed a lead seven minutes into the second period. Bryan Rust controlled the puck in the Devils’ zone through a line change, and Letang slipped undetected into the slot. Carl Hagelin made a quick pass from behind the Devils goal line and Letang (8) roofed the one-timer past Keith Kinkaid.
Despite the Penguins advantage, their penalty kill again let them down. The Penguins have allowed a power-play goal in nine of the last 10 games.
Matt Hunwick, who returned to the lineup after 12 games as a healthy scratch, failed to cover the shooter on the Devils power play. Unfortunately for the Penguins, the shooter was Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall. Devils forward Patrick Maroon anchored his skates just in front of Murray, and Hall (34) ripped a shot just inside the far post from the right wing circle. Tie game, 2-2.
Five minutes into the third period, Blake Coleman (12) scored another pretty goal against the Penguins. Last week, Coleman scored a nifty one-handed backhander on a partial breakaway. On Thursday, Coleman cut behind the Penguins defense and across the crease. Murray made the initial save, but Coleman elevated the rebound.
Hornqvist (25) tied the game nine minutes into the third period with a long-range wrist shot through traffic. The shot deflected off at least one Devils defender, hit the post, then caromed off the back of Kinkaid’s leg and across the goal line.
The Devils had to hang on in the final minutes as the Penguins created numerous good chances.
Analysis and Report Card
Conor Sheary: A
Sheary was a golden retriever. The Penguins’ third line with Sheahan and Hornqvist was a force. When Sheary is playing well, he is succeeding in the corners. He was on the puck like a hungry dog Thursday. He also scored the Penguins first goal by racing to the net.
Sheary is reaching peak performance at the right time.
Matt Hunwick: D+
Bravery to fight Miles Wood bumped up his grade. Hunwick has been eating press box nachos for 12 games and did little Thursday to force the coaches to re-insert him Saturday.
Hunwick whiffed on a pass to him at the point in the first period. At 12:50 of the second period, his neutral zone turnover sprung the Devils on a two on one. And on the Devils’ second period power-play goal, Hunwick lost his angle to either block the shot or take the shooter’s angle away.
Patric Hornqvist: A
The line of Sheary-Sheahan-Hornqvist would also get an A. The line scored two goals, worked the puck low, created chances and pressured the Devils.
Hornqvist was his agitating best, both in front of the net and in transition.
Kris Letang: B+
Letang was active on the wall and activated well. Letang’s blast was a well-timed pinch.
The difference tonight from recent games: Penguins forwards properly covered Letang. The team looked like a well-coordinated five-man unit, most of the night.
Team Game: A-
The Penguins were engaged from start to finish. The Devils’ transition game got to the Penguins a few times but the Penguins forecheck was aggressive, and they looked hungry for the first time in weeks.
Several players like Sheary, Rust, Crosby, Letang and Justin Schultz, were noticeable for their positive plays. The Penguins desperately needed this type of effort. Now, they need to carry it over and squash a weak Montreal team Saturday and show their ‘A’ game Sunday against the Capitals.
One good effort is only a good start.
On Friday morning check out the Penguins Chalkboard–We’ll diagram important goals and a great shift by Crosby and defensemen which set the tone in the first period. Pens Chalkboard is exclusive to PHN Extra members. Join the Pittsburgh media rebels and misfits here.