The Pittsburgh Penguins (13-9-1) stared at a potentially devastating four-point deficit to the Philadelphia Flyers (12-6-3) in the East Division. Having played alternating great games and stinkers, they finished their three games series against the Flyers with one in the middle. The Penguins survived four Philadlephia power plays, including Marcus Pettersson’s three minor penalties.
Evgeni Malkin narrowly escaped danger in the third period and sprung the winning goal as Jared McCann (5) finished a rebound on the rush from Brandon Tanev. The Penguins won in regulation 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday afternoon.
“I think Jared is playing a solid game right now. We’ve always known he has the ability to finish. He’s got a good shot. He can find the back of the net,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s more about playing the game a certain way that gives him the opportunities to get the looks.”
The win had a huge impact on the standings. The Penguins pulled to within one point of the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders in the East Division. The Penguins and Flyers are tied with 27 points, though the Flyers have two games in hand.
It wasn’t the start to the first period, which would make anyone comfortable, but it was a fruitful 20 minutes. The Penguins scored a pair of power-play goals and did so in highlight-reel plumage.
“At first it was a lot of special teams. In these games, that’s going to happen. Our power play did a good job to give us momentum,” Brian Dumoulin said.
The Penguin game was also a bit, or a lot, sloppy. They took four stick penalties in the first period, including coincidental minors between the Penguins Zach Aston-Reese and Flyers Kevin Hayes.
The PK unit yielded chances but no goals, at least in the first period. However, the Penguins’ power play scored twice.
Mid-way through the first period, Sidney Crosby dished a cross-ice saucer pass that landed on Evgeni Malkin’s tape. Malkin (5) stormed the net, froze Philadelphia goalie Brian Elliott and skated around the net for a wide-open wraparound.
The assist marked Crosby’s 109th point in 74 games against the Flyers.
Later in the period, the Pittsburgh Penguins PP unit struck again, but the second was a beauty. Four teammates touched the puck in quick succession. Crosby again used a seam for a cross-ice pass, this time to Jake Guentzel, who quickly zipped it to Bryan Rust near the crease. Rust (8) had an easy tap, tap, tap-a-roo.
The assist marked Crosby’s 110th point in 74 games against the Flyers.
The Penguins did yield an ugly goal in the first period, too. Fourth liner Sam Lafferty gave up the puck at the top of the offensive zone, and Philadelphia had a two-on-none. Scott Laughton and Travis Konecny played catch, back-and-forth, and Konecny (6) roofed a wrister over a helpless Tristan Jarry.
The Penguins gave away their lead in the second period by allowing a pair of goals, including a power-play goal, but got one back at the end.
Philadelphia erased the Penguins’ lead seconds into the second period with a power-play goal on Evgeni Malkin’s interference penalty that straddled the end of the first and end of the second period. Nolan Patrick screened Jarry, and Kevin Hayes (8) picked the top corner.
Then the goalies traded softies for No. 3.
First, Jarry whiffed on a blueline shot from Shayne Gostisbehere (3).
Late in the period, the Penguins tied the game. From the corner, Zach Aston-Reese (4) whistled a wrister along the goal line, which Elliott misplayed.
After two periods, the teams combined for only 15 shots. The Penguins outshot Philadelphia 11-4. Overall, the Penguins outshot the Flyers 18-14 through 40 minutes.
“I like our resilience. It’s not an easy game out there. Obviously, we were disappointed with the result the other night….” Sullivan said. “I was happy with the players. I thought their response was really strong (Saturday). I liked our energy, our effort, our compete was high and we beat a pretty good hockey team.”
The game had little flow because of the bevy of minor penalties. The Pittsburgh Penguins had three power plays, and Philadelphia had four, though the Philadelphia had 10 penalty minutes and the Penguins 12. Pettersson took three minor penalties in the first two periods.
Before the game, the Penguins officially activated Brian Dumoulin and winger Evan Rodrigues. The team also reported that Colton Sceviour would be placed in the NHL COVID protocol at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman was officially a scratch and is not on IR. Friedman was nearly knocked out when he tried to deliver a hit on Nolan Patrick Thursday night.
Evan Rodrigues hit the post with an empty net in the final minutes.
Jarry stopped 19 of 22 shots. Elliott saved 23 of 27.