On New Year’s Day 2011, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals in the annual NHL Winter Classic. That day Crosby took a hit that changed his career and cost him a year and a half of playing the game he loved.
Fast forward a little over six years and Sidney Crosby and the Penguins were back at Heinz Field, this time hosting the rival Philadelphia Flyers.
All week Crosby spoke about leaving Heinz Field this second time with better memories. A little over eleven minutes into Saturday night’s game, Sid made a memory he will not soon forget.
Taking a feed from Jake Guentzel, Crosby buried the puck past a sprawling Michal Neuvrith for the opening goal of the game.
Following their captain’s lead, the Penguins weathered a strong push from the visiting Flyers all night to prevail with a 4-2 victory under the lights at Heinz Field.
Kris Letang (upper body injury) out. Justin Schultz (concussion) returns. Ron Hainsey (acquired Thursday) makes Penguins debut.
Matt Murray gets the nod in goal.
Here's a look at tonight's line combinations. We're happy to see you, Hainsey! pic.twitter.com/xE4MeAi16N— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 26, 2017
After a brief feeling out process the Flyers carried the play for the opening minutes, coming close twice but were denied once by Murray and a second time by the post.
At 6:39 of the first period Evgeni Malkin was whistled for playing with an illegal stick that awarded the Flyers with the first power play of the game. No harm came of Malkin’s penalty as the Pens killed it off with relative ease.
The two sides remained scoreless as the clock ticked past the midway point of the first period with the Flyers having the upper-hand in shots.
Since being recalled to the NHL Jake Guentzel has found a home on the top line with Sidney Crosby and that combo hooked up to give the Pens a lead at 11:18 of the period. Guentzel skated into the slot, froze the goaltender Michal Neuvirth, and slid the puck to Crosby who buried it into an open net for the lead. Scott Wilson was awarded an assist on the goal after a first intermission scoring change.
34 goals. NHL goal scoring leader.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 26, 2017
Sidney Crosby, legend. pic.twitter.com/TbROuiM9Sn
With the lead, the Pens got their first chance on the power play when Ivan Provorov was called for hooking. The best chance came shorthanded for the Flyers but were denied again by Murray.
After the Flyers killed off the Provorov minor the first period clock ticked away and the period came to a close with the Pens leading 1-0.
Five minutes expired in the second period and neither side could make anything happen. A few big hits were delivered on both sides and it appeared Cameron Gaunce got away with a spearing infraction against Michael Raffl.
The Pens went back to the power play looking to extend their 1-0 lead when Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was whistled for interference.
Nothing was happening for the to power play unit so Mike Sullivan sent out the second unit and they found the magic. Going cross ice, Jake Guentzel notched his second assist of the evening, finding the stick of Nick Bonino who made no mistake and put the Pens up 2-0.
BONINO! BONINO! BONINO! From one knee on the power play. pic.twitter.com/D0yM8w49P6— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 26, 2017
Shortly after going up 2-0 the Pens found themselves shorthanded when Eric Fehr was called for roughing and sent to the box for two minutes. This was no issue for the Pens as they killed off the minor and preserved their 2-0 lead.
Just past the midway point of the second period Dale Weise and Chris Kunitz had a confrontation after the whistle and both took a seat in the box with matching roughing minors.
The sides skated 4-on-4 for two minutes and the Flyers took advantage of the extra space and cut the Pens lead in half. Jakub Voracek used a power move from behind the goal line to fight off the defender and reach around Murray to make it 2-1.
Following the Voracek goal both sides kept pushing, trading chances on both ends but nothing happened for either side.
With less than a minute left in the period, Crosby appeared to score his second of the night but it was immediately waved off for the net being off its moorings.
Unrelated to the no goal call, Brandon Manning was called for holding and sent to the penalty box. With 50 seconds to work with the Pens were unable to score with the man advantage and went into the second intermission leading 2-1.
Working with 1:10 of carry over power play time the Pens wanted to restore their two goal lead early in the final period. Unfortunately, the Flyers penalty kill was up to the task to keep it a one goal game.
Seconds after the Pens power play was killed off, the two goal lead they were hoping to restore with the man advantage came to fruition. Stepping out from behind the net, Matt Cullen tried to sneak one past Neuvirth to no avail. Luckily for Cullen, the puck bounced right in front and he found a hole in Neuvirth to stretch the lead to 3-1 less than two minutes into the third.
Cullen from yesterday: "It's such a fun thing. To be a part of it, my whole household is pretty excited. The boys are probably the most." pic.twitter.com/TrWFKn09ts— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 26, 2017
The two goal cushion turned out to be short lived after Guentzel was called for a holding penalty at 6:34. Fourteen seconds after the penalty was called, Shayne Gostisbehere let go a bomb from the point that beat a screened Murray to cut the Pens lead to 3-2 with just over 13 minutes remaining.
As per the rule for every outdoor game, the horn sounded at the 10 minute mark of the third period so the teams could switch ends of ice to ensure neither side gets an unfair advantage with the ever changing weather conditions.
When clinging to a one goal lead in the third period the last thing you want to do is be forced to kill of a penalty. That was the situation the Pens faced with less than nine minutes left when Cameron Gaunce was nailed for tripping.
Good news for the Pens, the penalty kill was up to the task and successfully killed off the penalty with the 3-2 lead intact.
Less than six minutes left and still clinging to a one goal lead an unlikely hero emerged to restore the two goal cushion. Evgeni Malkin won a face-off clean in Flyers zone back to Chad Ruhwedel, who floated it on net and past Neuvirth for a 4-2 lead.
Ruhwedel's celebration is top of the line. pic.twitter.com/IKxPQ9bAhL— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 26, 2017
Soon after the goal by Ruhwedel, the Pens had a chance to put the game on ice when Gostisbehere was called for interference. Nothing materialized for the Pens with the man advantage and Gostisbehere was released with the Pens still leading 4-2.
With exactly two minutes left the nail was put in the Flyers coffin when Wayne Simmonds was whistled for a slash, putting the Pens back on the power play for the remainder of regulation time.
Simply wasting clock, the Pens took no chances with the man advantage and just let the clock wind to to zero to wrap up an impressive 4-2 win over the rival Flyers at Heinz Field.
1. Jake Guentzel
2. Sidney Crosby
3. Jakub Voracek
Goals: Penguins 4 (Crosby 34, Bonino 9, Cullen 10, Ruhwedel 2); Flyers 2 (Voracek 16, Gostisbehere 5).
Saves: Murray-38 shots, 36 saves; Neuvirth-29 shots, 25 saves.
Power Play: Penguins-1 of 5; Flyers- 1 of 4.
Tuesday night the Pens will head out on the road and back indoors when they travel to the “Lone Star State” for a tilt with the struggling Dallas Stars. Game time is scheduled for 8:30 PM and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports.