Changes are aplenty for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matt Hunwick (healthy scratch in last 12 games) is back in the lineup and it’s Chad Ruhwedel (healthy) who sits. All 3 D pairs are “new” from last game with the familiar Letang-Dumoulin top duo back and Maatta-Schultz getting another bite at the 2nd pair apple.
Up front Riley Sheahan slides up to 3rd line with Derick Brassard (day-to-day, groin) injured and out. Coach Mike Sullivan also stacks the lines by sliding Phil Kessel back up with Evgeni Malkin. Josh Jooris is back from “Wilkes” (as the players call it) and back in as 4th line center.
Sidney Crosby gets sprung on a 2-on-1 just 15 seconds into the game and elects to shoot but a nice save is made by Keith Kinkaid who didn’t give him much to shoot at.
Quick whistle and the Malkin line comes out.
Another quick whistle and Sullivan puts the Crosby line back out.
Shift after that, it’s Malkin-Kessel again.
Point being? The coach is very much aggressively sending a message that this game is important and it’s time to get down to business.
The teams trade some chances but it’s New Jersey who scores first. Malkin turns the puck over at the offensive blue to Nico Hischier who makes a great pass up the ice to a streaking Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri is in all alone and tucks it 5-hole on Matt Murray.
Just 25 seconds later though the Pens have an answer with Patric Hornqvist making a nice pass to a wide-open Conor Sheary to bury his 16th goal of the season past Kinkaid and tie the game quickly at 1.
Go to the net, score a goal. pic.twitter.com/f5nIvTy29V— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 29, 2018
Brian Dumoulin takes a trip to the penalty box but no damage is done. Then the Pens get a power play when Kris Letang is tripped but they aren’t able to score either.
Period ends with shot ties at 12 and the game tied at 1.
Early in the period Letang takes a penalty and Murray makes a beauty of a save on a wide open Taylor Hall from the left side to help kill it off.
That kill seems to give the Pens a little life as they control play and eventually Carl Hagelin swoops behind the net, and feeds Letang for a booming one-time slapper that rockets over the shoulder of Kinkaid to make the game a 2-1 Pens lead.
Nobody picked up Letang and he made them pay. pic.twitter.com/2JasEOoqn1— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 30, 2018
The Devils make a push after going down and in a sequence Jamie Oleksiak does well to lay out and use his 6’7 reach to block a pass but later takes a bit of a weak interference penalty. NJ makes them pay, Josh Jooris has a clear chance to clear but shoots the puck right at Will Butcher who keeps it in. He gets it back to Hall who shoots and a screened Murray never has a chance. 2-2.
A bit later Miles Wood (a bit of a pest) gets tangled up with Matt Hunwick and the 2 drop the gloves for a fight. Yeah, guessing Hunwick had a bit of pent up frustration after sitting for so long, nice to see him willing to stick up for himself against a bigger and more experienced fighting combatant.
Period ends with NJD up 21-20 overall in shots. At 5v5 shots in the game are 18-15 Pens. Score still jammed up at 2 a piece.
Pittsburgh gets the first glorious chance of the period with Justin Schultz driving to the net and setting Sheahan up, almost identical to to play Sheary finished on the first goal. Sheahan has an empty net and shoots it right into Kinkaid along the ice. Tough not to think in that instance what if Brassard was healthy but thinking won’t change the score either.
One team doesn’t score, so guess what happens next. A few shifts later the Devils shutdown a Schultz breakout attempt and Blake Coleman jets to the cage. Murray stops his first save but the rebound is sitting there for Coleman to lift it into the net as Schultz pulls up and coasts on the other way for some reason. 3-2 lead for NJ with 14 minutes and change left.
The Pens get just their 2nd PP opportunity of the game and the big guns are on for the full two minutes and practically get 2 minutes of zone time but no goal.
The goal comes soon though, Hornqvist is near the blueline and floats in a harmless enough looking shot but Sheary tips it (update: or maybe not!), the puck goes past Kinkaid, hits the post then hits the back of the Jersey goalie and goes in. 3-3 game with 8:34 left.
It WAS Hornqvist! The scoring on the goal was changed. Hornqvist's shot from up high was assisted by Dumoulin and Sheahan. Take a look at the goal here. pic.twitter.com/KFDFQcaAYw— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 30, 2018
Lives flash in front of eyes with Crosby in pain. On replay, after a faceoff Travis Zajac put a butt end on him in the chest. Cool. No refs see it or call a penalty because they totally favor Crosby and the Pens give them all the calls.
Tempers flare as regulation pulls to an end. Coleman gets in Kessel’s face for some reason. Hornqvist is going HAM and takes a coincidental minor and does well to take out NJD defenseman John Moore at least for the start of OT.
The OT starts and ends quickly thanks to Sidney Patrick Crosby. Just as he got a 2-on-1 early in the game, he gets one late. Rings the puck off the post, but he’s a G no doubt so he just bats it into the net AGAIN!! and wins the game.
Crosby is here for opening day in OT. ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/hy4PUGJn00— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) March 30, 2018
Suck it Travis Zajac suck it the whole of New Jersey. Pens win.
- The newly formed 3rd line of Sheary-Sheahan-Hornqvist was the team’s best on the night. And it goes to show that you don’t need a star on each line to get scoring!
- Sheary had a good game with the goals but even away from that his game was impressive. There’s a noticeable hop in skating stride these days. He’s going into corners, just everything he’s doing seems to have a little extra gusto in it. Whether it’s confidence from playing well of late or just feeling and playing well, we’ll take it.
- Josh Jooris couldn’t have passed the puck any better to the Devils defenseman for their second goal. Easy to say from a keyboard but he had more time than he seemed to think and all he had to do was not hit the guy right in front of him and he...hit the guy right in front of him.
- Was glad to see the Pens not challenge that goal for goalie interference. Was close to a gray area with Maroon maybe even crowding Murray or making minuscule contact with him either in or just out of the crease. Seems like some teams challenge that but we don’t need as fans to have the game stopped and a 10 minute review with a microscope to see where the attacking player was, where the goalie was, if there was slight bumping. Unless it’s blatant it shouldn’t matter. Just like to point that out for the ones that go against the Pens in the interest of full disclosure when we rally on the ones that bite them.
- Similarly, not sure what Schultz was thinking on the 3rd GA. Looked like Crosby was wanting to go off for a change even though he was in the middle of the ice so Schultz didn’t pass there. OK, but he couldn’t get it out then had a “no batteries in the controller” moment while defending. Mistakes are life as a dman but that was frustrating in the 3rd period of a tie game.
- As we mentioned in the game preview, the 2nd period would be crucial since NJD is one of the best at scoring goals in the 2nd periods of games and the Pens are one of the worst in the league in allowing goals in the middle stanza. Pittsburgh survived this one to a 1-1 tie.
- If the message was shoot the puck, Maatta got it loud and clear. Team high 5 shot attempts in the first 2 periods.
- Hunwick hasn’t had a great season so he’s a lightning rod but I thought he was perfectly fine tonight. He was on ice for 1GA (the PPG). Could he have been better positioned on Maroon? Maybe but that’s an easy target to lob a grenade at. Should have been a non-issue with Jooris failing them there. Was also on ice for a GF (Sheary’s first). Only played 13:33 with the 5 minute fight in there. Had 1 blocked shot.
- Nice to see Crosby shrug off the butt end and win the damn game. Still the greatest. The Devils can go an sit on a tack.
Big win for Pittsburgh who put 2 points in the bag and while not officially official for clinching a playoff spot, they’re basically going to be in at this point.