Two happy returns for the Penguins - center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang return from injuries to gear up for the playoffs, and more importantly help the team clinch a spot in them.
The Pens start with three strong early shifts (two of which immediate impact from Malkin and Letang were felt) and on the third shift the Red Wings take a penalty and send Pittsburgh to an early power play 2:11 in for slashing.
The Pens do little with it and then Jake Guentzel takes a penalty soon after. The Pittsburgh PK looks really strong for the early part, but then breaks down at the end. Matt Puempel deflects a point-shot from the front of the net and it’s 1-0 Detroit.
Puempel's first as a Red Wing. pic.twitter.com/VOP2ycNa83— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 4, 2019
Tough to do anything about that one, just a nice play by Puempel there.
Matt Murray saves the Pens’ bacon when Martin Frk gets a breakaway after Justin Schultz breaks his stick attempting a slapshot.
Big save at one end, goal at the other soon after - a tale as old as time. The Pens’ top line plays well and Olli Maatta pinches down low all the way under the goal-line. Maatta finds Guentzel who drifted back to the soft spot (almost ala Chris Kunitz ECF 2017 G7 OT) and is able to quickly snap the puck past Jimmy Howard to make it a 1-1 game.
Big shift from the third line but it’s Howard’s turn for a big time save, robbing Nick Bjugstad of a goal.
Detroit goes back to the penalty box for high-sticking Jared McCann and then the Pens’ struggling power play finally breaks through! Patric Hornqvist keeps a play alive and Sidney Crosby shoots on Howard. Howard can’t control the rebound, but Phil Kessel is sitting on the doorstep to slam home the loose puck and it’s 2-1 Pittsburgh.
To make matters better, that power play goal triggered a promotion to earn everyone in attendance a free burger. The crowd responded with a rousing “thank you Phil” chant, much to the amusement of Kessel and Guentzel.
How dare anyone have fun at a hockey game!
Shots 18-7 Pens, great period aside from the one blip with that deflection.
Not much going on, the Pens get caught in the zone for 2 minutes and get pinned in the zone for a bit, but the group is able to hold after Murray makes a couple nice stops.
Malkin flashes a bit with the puck in the o-zone which is always fun to see.
Jack Johnson high-sticks Tyler Bertuzzi and as Bertuzzi is falling to the ice he loses control of his stick and it high-sticks Johnson. They both get 4 minutes of penalties, which seems pretty fortunate for the Pens not to end up short-handed there, and stay 5v5 even. Considering Bertuzzi has 13 points in his last 5 games, trading taking him off the ice for sitting Johnson is a trade you take every single time from the Pens’ perspective.
Shortly after those penalties, Phil strikes again! Set play off a strong, clean faceoff win by Malkin. Kessel wisely shuffles a step to get out of blocking lanes and snaps a quick shot to make it 3-1.
81 points.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 5, 2019
#81 is big time. pic.twitter.com/Aqpr8Kcj3l
Shots in the second are 18-13 Pens.
Detroit gets 5 shots on goal in the first 2 minutes of the period, trying to get that flurry going.
But Dylan Larkin trips McCann at center ice and the Pens are off to the power play again. They don’t score but almost all of the top group stays out for 2 minutes, almost entirely with possession and zone time, zipping around passes and a few shots too. Fun to watch even if no goals are scored.
Andreas Anthanasiou gets an unsportsmanlike next, I guess for chirping the ref (maybe he called him a “J.T.” like in the movie Semi Pro) and the big boys get one this time. Patric Hornqvist feeds Kessel who rips a shot and it hits the post and lays behind Howard. Sidney Crosby is there to poke it home to make it 4-1.
Fun fact: Tonight marks Crosby's 12th game with three points (or more) this season. pic.twitter.com/Gr25xrNKwX— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 5, 2019
Bryan Rust gets his stick up and hooks a player so it’s the Red Wings turn for a power play. About the most impactful moment is McCann unleashing a heck of a shot that freezes Howard totally as the puck clunks loudly off the bar, but not into the net.
Murray makes a few more nice saves and that will do it. A 13th straight berth to the playoffs is secured.
- Phil is heating up! Two goals in this one and now a two-game scoring streak too. Kessel has 8 points in the last 6 games and pretty quickly has gone from “being in a rut” to “being in a groove”. Certainly a wonderful turn of events for Pittsburgh to have Kessel waking up and putting goals in the net.
- Assists on the first two Pens’ goals and scoring one himself means Crosby is at 98 points for the season. Given how Sid usually torments the Rangers (and the fact NYR has nothing more to play for), getting to 100 may not be totally out of reach.
- Crosby’s goal was his first in 10 games too, so nice for him to get one in the net now.
- 62 total faceoffs in this game, Crosby took 34 of them (54%). Won 68% of his draws, feasting especially on Larkin. That’s a fun stat to track as the Pens lean heavily on the captain this time of year for lots of little details like that.
- Strong start for Pittsburgh but really the game seemed to turn in the second period. Play was a lot more even, the Wings had some strong chances but Murray was good and then Kessel struck to extend the lead.
- Another great game in a long line of them for Murray. Starting his career-high 10th straight game, Murray stops 33/34 with the only one eluding him a chest high hard deflection from about 20 feet away, aka about impossible. Murray was huge. Depending on how the seeding battle goes, might be a chance to rest him on Saturday, but there’s a possibility the Pens will have something to play for - as in trying to get a result to make sure they don’t end up as a Wild Card and draw either Tampa (less likely) or Washington (feasible) as a first round opponent. If that’s the case that the game has meaning, Murray surely will be making it 11 straight starts.
Great game to see some familiar faces return and get the W to put any questions about playoffs to rest. Now to see how the shuffle for first round possibilities goes.