Before you think I’ve taken permanent leave of my senses, let me explain. I decided on the title of this post immediately following the first period of last night’s 5-4 overtime victory over the Rangers, when the Penguins played arguably their finest 20 minutes of the season.
I changed my mind during an ugly second period, when the Pens unraveled like a loosely wound skein of yarn. Then, when they came back to win it, thanks to a bit of last-minute Sidney Crosby magic and an Evgeni Malkin dagger in overtime, I thought… what the heck.
And it was great to see the Pens actually resemble their Cup champion selves of the past couple of years, if only in spurts. It means there’s hope they’ll eventually put it all together for a full 60 minutes. And, work of art or not, we did earn two points. It sure beats the alternative.
In particular, I was pleased with the play of our second line, which, like the team, had gotten off to a sluggish start this season. The HGK Line collected three of the Pens’ goals and accounted for eight points overall.
Leading the way was Malkin, who turned in a vintage performance. The big center notched the overtime winner and assisted on three other tallies for a four-point night. In typical “Geno” fashion, he stood up for himself and the team by swapping punches with Blueshirts defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk early in the third period.
Phil Kessel likewise returned to form. In the first minute of play, he raced into the New York zone and beat Henrik Lundqvist for a blocker-side goal to set the tone. “Phil the Thrill” also authored two crucial assists, setting up Patric Hornqvist and Malkin with nifty net-front feeds.
Carl Hagelin came alive as well. Flashing his world-class wheels, the speedy Swede unleashed six shots against his former team and beat Lundqvist with a top-shelf wrister to stake the Pens to an early 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the two-goal edge slipped away amid a sea of second-period penalties. Moments after shifty David Desharnais beat Matt Murray to the glove side to cut the Pens’ lead to one, Crosby was issued a double-minor for high-sticking. The Rangers promptly cashed in on a pair of power-play tallies by Pavel Buchnevich and Pittsburgh-native J.T. Miller.
Later in the period, Crosby and Hagelin were issued slashing minors, handing New York a 5-on-3 advantage for nearly two full minutes. But the Pens’ no-name penalty killers—still honing their craft in the wake of off-season defections by Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen—rose to the occasion. Hornqvist knotted the score with two minutes left in the period, banging the puck in from the lip of the crease in his inimitable lunch-pail style.
The Rangers countered midway through the final period on a goal by Michael Grabner. As the game clock ticked down under a minute to play in regulation, it looked like curtains for our boys. But Crosby, determined to atone for his earlier penalties, came up large when his team needed him the most, with a brilliant play to boot.
The sequence began when Hornqvist batted down a flying puck with his glove beside the Rangers’ net. Realizing play would be whistled dead if he touched the puck, Crosby coolly decoyed Shattenkirk into attempting a clear. Once the Rangers’ d-man played the puck, Sid pounced, whipping a backhander toward Lundqvist from a sharp angle. The rubber struck “King Henrik’s” pads and somehow slipped in, setting the stage for Malkin’s game winner.
With an assist on Hagelin’s goal, Olli Maatta collected his seventh point of the season, matching his 2016-17 point total. Malkin, Kessel and Justin Schultz each paced the Pens with a plus three.
Murray yielded three goals during a 2:30 stretch of the second period, but regained his composure to make 28 saves on the night, 13 during the third period.
Defenseman Matt Hunwick sustained a concussion during a recent team practice and did not play. Ian Cole, who missed the past three games after losing several teeth, returned to the lineup. Wearing a Plexiglas shield to protect his mouth, the gritty defender registered three hits and a game-high five blocked shots in 17:52 of ice time.
“What I love about our group is that we stick to it, we just stay with it,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “It was an ugly win, but it was a win.”