The Penguins fell just short of a clean sweep of their swing through Western Canada last night, dropping a taut 4-3 decision to Calgary in a shootout.
“I felt like we had our chances,” said Sidney Crosby, who snapped a seven-game goal drought with his league-best 35th tally of the season. “But it was a pretty good hockey game both ways.”
“Our guys are competing hard,” added coach Mike Sullivan. “And that’s what I admire most about them.”
Conor Sheary opened the scoring at 2:54 of the first period with his 20th goal of the campaign, thanks to a nifty passing play. Crosby reversed direction in the corner and fed a short pass to Jake Guentzel to the right of the Flames’ net. Guentzel quickly moved the puck to Sheary, who slipped into the slot undetected and beat Brian Elliott to the stick side.
Old friend Deryk Engelland knotted the score for the home team 11 minutes later when he cruised down the right side of the visitor’s zone and beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a deflection.
Two minutes later our guys regained the edge. Working a beautiful give-and-go with Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin struck from the doorstep for a power-play goal.
Winners of nine-straight entering the contest, the red-hot Flames pushed back. Dennis Wideman scored on a knuckler from long range early in the second period to tie the score at 2-2. At 5:22 of the third Calgary grabbed the lead, courtesy of a slashing call to Phil Kessel and a brilliant individual effort by Johnny Gaudreau.
After gathering speed in his own end, the slick little winger burst past Tom Kuhnhackl in the neutral zone before turning Ron Hainsey inside out with bit of on-ice trickery.
He fooled Fleury, too. Flower dallied at the far post while Gaudreau streaked behind the net and deposited the puck into a wide-open cage on a wraparound.
Crosby countered for the black and gold in the waning moments on an equally remarkable play. Taking a pass from Brian Dumoulin, Guentzel fed Sheary at the top of the left circle. The spunky winger wasted little time, snapping off a rising shot. As only Sid can do, No. 87 arrived at the crease, deadened his stick, and miraculously deflected the puck home to tie the game.
Having regained the initiative, the Pens had a golden opportunity to steal two points in overtime when Mark Giordano took an ill-advised slashing penalty. But Elliott held firm.
The Ontario native loomed large in the shootout as well, stifling a Murder’s Row of Malkin, Crosby and Kessel. Meanwhile, in another amazing display of skill, Flames veteran Kris Versteeg roofed the puck from an impossible angle to secure a record-tying 10th consecutive win for his team.
“It was a competitive game,” noted Sullivan. “It was a fairly even game. It could have went either way. It’s a shame it’s got to end in a shootout. It was two pretty good teams going at it.”
The Pens earned seven of a possible eight points on the western portion of the road trip.
The black and gold outshot the Flames, 35-30, and won 51 percent of the faceoffs.
Kunitz moved up to the second line in place of the injured Carl Hagelin. Josh Archibald joined Scott Wilson and Nick Bonino on the third line; Carter Rowney and Oskar Sundqvist skated with Tom Kuhnhackl.
Mark Streit exited in the first period with an apparent lower-body injury after blocking a shot. He was taken to a hospital for evaluation. No word of yet as to the nature or severity of the injury.