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Pens/Wild Recap: Malkin’s OT goal boosts Pens to painful win

The Penguins beat the Wild 4-3 in overtime to take down the league’s hottest team, but appear to suffer an injury to Jason Zucker just as soon as he got back

Pittsburgh Penguins v Minnesota Wild Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images

The night started with the Wild welcoming the return of Jason Zucker on Thursday night for the first time as a visitor, as the Penguins simultaneously were welcoming Zucker back to the lineup following a long injury absence. Unfortunately there was also another injury exit for Jason Zucker to follow after a scary looking leg injury that happened in the second period.

Before that unfortunate part, Pittsburgh would jump out to an early lead at the charmed 66 second mark of the game. New acquisition Rickard Rakell racked up his first goal of two goals on the night, tipping in a John Marino shot.

Beforehand, there was a bit of a ref show, with the zebras inserting themselves and setting an awfully ticky tack level for penalties. It sent the Pens’ to the box three times in the first period, swung the other way with three Wild penalties in the second.

Matt Dumba would get the Wild on the board on one of their power plays, just barely getting the puck over the line in a scramble before Kris Letang could bail out his goalie.

The Pens would match on a power play of their own early in the second period to retake the lead. Kris Letang gets career assist #500 when he shoots the puck and Cam Talbot stops it. But the rebound kicks out quickly to Jake Guentzel, who just as quickly returns to sender past Talbot. 2-1 Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh stretches it to a 3-1 lead on the sequence that caused Zucker’s injury. Sidney Crosby jumps on the ice with Evgeni Malkin’s linemates because Malkin got rocked by a big, clean hit from Dumba that took some wind out of his sails. Crosby collected the puck and rushed up the ice for a 2-on-1 with Rakell. Jonas Brodin is a great defensive defenseman but he looks silly on this one spiraled across the ice and unable to stop Crosby’s pass. Rakell lifts the puck over Talbot and it’s a 3-1 game.

The Wild think they have gotten one back, but Pittsburgh’s eagle eyed video coaches have seen it’s slightly offsides on the rush entering the zone and a challenge is instituted. Goal is taken away, rather quickly.

The hockey deities must not have approved, because Minnesota scores on the following shift. It’s former Penguin Freddy Gaudreau finding a soft spot in the slot and firing the puck past Casey DeSmith to bring the Wild back to 3-2, for reals this time.

Minnesota would tie the game early in the third. Pretty slick play by Ryan Hartman to bank the puck off the back of the net to himself and then center it for Kirill Kaprizov. Teddy Blueger can’t quite get there in time, and yep, that’s going to be a goal more often than not. 3-3 game with 18:58 to go.

The third ends with no further scoring to necessitate overtime. Evgeni Malkin would finish the game off on a third effort, finally banging the puck past Talbot to end the game and give Pittsburgh the win.

Some Thoughts

  • Have to feel totally gutted for Jason Zucker to work hard to come back and then suffer what looked like a nasty injury. Legs shouldn’t bend in the ways his did, getting pushed into the boards from behind by Kevin Fiala. Fiala, ironically, broke his femur by getting checked into the boards a few years ago.
  • The addition of Rakell looks better by the game though. Very high skill player and the type of offensive dynamo winger that it seems like the Pens always need an extra guy like that. Hell, what team doesn’t?
  • Fortunately, once Malkin got a minute to shake off the heavy hit he absorbed, he was able to continue along normally. It would have gone from bad to even worse had he suffered an injury within seconds of Zucker also going down.
  • It was a game of attrition for Minnesota too, who had all of Jon Merill, Matthew Boldy and Marcus Foligno miss time. The bad news for the Pens is with Boldy out for a large chunk of the game, the response to fill his spot was to double shift Kaprizov.
  • Really didn’t like DeSmith’s rebound control in this game. He was pretty shaky, almost just along for the ride at times. If the puck wasn’t hitting him, he didn’t have many answers or look like he ever got comfortable and settled into this game. Simply locating or being able to freeze pucks seemed a bridge too far for most of the game. And coming out to stop a puck or getting it off the bounce? Forget about it.
  • The Zucker injury probably means no more Rodrigues-Carter-Kapanen line, and that is probably a good thing for all parties. Rodrigues didn’t have a good game, but was at least noticeable at times, though going to the box after a turnover wasn’t a good way to standout in his most memorable play. Kapanen was almost invisible with no shot attempts. In fact, as Bob Grove pointed out, Kapanen only has one shot now in his last five games (and he scored on it against Detroit). After scoring a hat trick against Minnesota in November, it’s a shame that seeing them again didn’t do much to bring Kapanen back to life.
  • But then again, at least those guys got semi-regular shifts. Danton Heinen only took six shifts, playing 4:58. The Zucker injury sent the lineup in flux and Heinen got set to the side for the most part in this game.
  • After a few quiet games of his own, Jake Guentzel was once again one of the top players on the ice again. He scored on the power play, nearly scored on a redirect from in front and had a breakaway with five minutes left. Going home to Minnesota seemed to do him well.
  • This OT result is perhaps more impressive then it appears on the surface. Minnesota was 7-0 in overtime this season before #71 fittingly sent them to 7-1. Before beating the Flyers 4-1, all three of their prior games went to the extra session and the Wild won in OT. The Pens improve to 5-3 in games decided in OT.
  • Memorable way for Malkin to tie Jaromir Jagr with 78 game winners with the Pens. This wasn’t some cheesy goal to make it 4-1 in the middle of the game and then the other team scores a few, punching it in for overtime was a fitting way to tie the franchise record.

Gritty effort for the Pens to find a way to pickup the win against the league’s hottest team, in their barn and break a long winning streak. The bad news is that the Pens will probably be feeling this one for a while, depending on Zucker’s status moving forward.