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Penguins vs. Toronto Recap: Resting Pens fall in 3rd, lose to Maple Leafs

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The Penguins rest some guys and put up a good fight, but fall apart a bit late in the 3rd period and the Toronto Maple Leafs (who had a lot more to play for) clinch a playoff berth of their own.

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So many changes. Kevin Porter and Dominik Simon make their NHL season debuts, Cameron Gaunce and Tom Sestito draw back into the lineup too. Regulars in Nick Bonino, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust and Brian Dumoulin (all heavy players who eat a lot of time, play physical and/or block shots) get a rest. interestingly enough, they leave Matt Murray in street clothes and give the backup job for the night to youngster Tristan Jarry who will watch as Fleury plays.

That's an AHL caliber bottom-6 with clearly the emphasis tonight on resting the guys who need it, and holding out guys like Evgeni Malkin and Olli Maatta who are close to getting back into the lineup too.

1st period

After no goals in the last 10 games, of course Phil Kessel breaks the ice with the game's opening goal on his trademark shot down the right-wing shooting left past the goalie's blocker side against the Maple Leafs. Nice job by him there and good to see surely a still emotional return to TO giving him added motivation to put the puck in the net. Extra credit for laughing just as soon as the puck left his stick.

The lead lasts a grand total of 29 seconds after James van Riemsdyk makes a bananas play to bat the puck out of mid-air, somehow stay onside and then beats Fleury with a great wrister. Sometimes you just got to tip your cap (after challenging to make sure he was onside). 1-1.

Shots end up just 9-4 in favor of Toronto. Pittsburgh looks like a depleted team just trying to get out of here healthy. Toronto looks like a team still digging to improve playoff positioning (and officially clinch a playoff berth, too).

2nd period

Tom Sestito takes out starting goalie Fredrik Anderson. Some angry Leafs fans (can't blame them for being angry seeing their guy go down) accuse Sestito of being sneaky dirty on this one. Cooler heads would say that Sestito isn't a very sneaky or finesse player, this was likely just an unfortunate accident of playing hard and taking out a guy.

Anyways, he takes (and deserves) a minor penalty and Toronto cashes in on the power play with Tyler Bozak scoring his 18th goal of the season after a sensational pass from William Nylander to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead.

It's Pittsburgh's turn to tie it up, with a power play goal of their own with none other than Sidney Crosby getting his 44th goal of the year.

After seeing this goal, I immediately thought of this really cool tweet from the Post-Gazette's Jason Mackey from the morning skate.

Crosby fine-tuning on taking a pass from the corner and shooting from the left circle in the morning. And what happens at night? He gets a pass from down low and rifles it into the net from the left circle. This type of stuff is not an accident, folks.

Shots end up 18-12 in favor of Toronto overall after 2. The Pens don't look great but they're hanging around.

3rd period

Jake Guentzel has a fully open net, puck on his stick and somehow flubs the shot and hits the side of the net. It happens but boy, what a chance. He gets it back though, after Crosby pulls a zone entry and then passes off to Guentzel along the wall. He throws what looks like a pretty harmless weak shot toward net, and it hits Nikita Zaitsev off his skae, changes direction and somehow trickles into the net past Curtis McElhinney. You win some, you lose some and Jake'n'Bake wins this one. 3-2 Pittsburgh takes the lead.

With 5:30 left in the game, former Penguins draft pick (traded for Kessel, as you might remember) Kasperi Kapanen scores his first career NHL goal (in his 16th career game) after Cullen loses him in traffic and Matt Hunwick makes a terrific pass.

Toronto pulls ahead for good with Connor Brown scores his 20th goal of the season (wow!) when he puts a high-zone tip on a Jake Gardiner shot/pass that Fleury has no chance on. 4-3 TML.

Crosby gets a beautiful chance to tie it in the last minute, but give McElhinney a lot of credit for a hell of a save for a backup goalie to step up after coming in unexpectedly. Sid doesn't elevate the puck (which is easy to say when he one-times such a hard pass from Kessel) but just the speed of the chance and how well the goalie read and tracked the play was very impressive. Still 4-3 Toronto on the Pens last best chance to get back in it.

Auston Matthews puts the game away with an empty netter to seal the deal at 5-3.

Some Thoughts

  • The Pens had a ton of normal leadership guys out that they usually would give an "A" to as alternate captains (Malkin, Kunitz, Letang, Bonino) but did you catch who joined Matt Cullen as the other A tonight? It was Trevor Daley, and it's not the first time he's worn a letter on his chest in Pittsburgh either. A lot of fans are drawing up their playoff lineups and leaving Daley out of their top-6 defensemen (not without good reason since he's had a difficult season) but that's an indication that the coaches perception of Daley probably differs a lot from what the spreadsheets are telling fans about his past performance.
  • This will be more of an offseason debate about where bottom-6 guys fit into future plans and lineups, but Josh Archibald's speed and acceleration is very noticeable and he seems to fill a great niche on the 4th line. I tend to doubt he fits in for the playoffs now if/when the team regains health, but where does he slot in next year compared to other fairly inexperienced or unestablished guys like Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney, who are usually 12th/13th forwards themselves with full lineup strength? I would hazard a guess that Archibald might have a chance to surpass guys like that if he can continue to shine and showcase his strengths.
  • Goals in 5 straight games for Guentzel who has only been back from his concussion in....5 games. He's been so good lately it's wild to think he's a 22 year old rookie in his 40th career NHL game (with 33 points in those games after tonight's 2 point effort). Just spectacular that there's finally another "Winger for Sid" in the endless campaign. 
  • Weird and sad to think that barring an injury, this was probably the last game Marc-Andre Fleury starts in a Penguins jersey.
  • In a way, funny to think Kapanen gets his first against the team that drafts him and is the game tying goal to help send Toronto to the playoffs for the first time in a while. Good for him, good for them. Might be a true "win-win" type of trade, but I mean look at the hardware and how good Phil was last playoff and it's still easy to see who the ultimate winner of that trade was.
  • Also of interest: Rowney, Archibald, Kuhnhackl, Scott Wilson played more ES time than guys like Crosby, Kessel, Guentzel, Conor Sheary. Even the Pens who weren't "resting" were still kinda resting.

Read that above bullet point again. Mike Sullivan didn't try to sell his soul to win this game, and nor should he. Sure it sucks to lose at anything but think big picture. Pittsburgh gets out of the game with seemingly no injuries. That's a big win. They don't get a win in the standings but rested some guys and hopefully are better positioned for the playoffs. Just one more game until we get there so we'll see you tomorrow for the finale against NYR.