Alex Nylander was recalled, but his presence wasn’t necessary because all 12 forwards from last game are able to go again, with no word on who the banged up player was. Jan Rutta is back ready for game action, sending Chad Ruhwedel to the press box.
Hockey coming soon.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 6, 2023
Forward Alex Nylander has been re-assigned to the @WBSPenguins. Defenseman Mark Friedman’s status has been changed from emergency recall to regular recall.#LetsGoPens pic.twitter.com/xZAJFgjtNX
A cautious start for both teams as they feel each other out and not try to make a mistake. Several icings and whistles in a choppy first five minutes.
Then, the Pittsburgh forecheck gets to work and the Penguins start piling up shots. Ryan Poehling has a tip chance from in front that goes high. Sidney Crosby wins an o-zone draw, all five Pens touch the puck, Kris Letang bombs one on net and Marc-Andre Fleury leaves a rebound for Bryan Rust right down the middle and he...lifts the puck well over the net.
On another o-zone draw, Letang just does it himself. Crosby wins it again and Brian Dumoulin bumps it over to Letang. Letang races down the right wing and flings a bad angle shot that Fleury waves with his glove and misses. The puck doesn’t miss the net. 1-0 Pens.
Fun fact: Kris Letang has recorded a point in his last seven games against Minnesota (3G-5A). pic.twitter.com/BD3u8P94gf— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 6, 2023
The very next shift, Matt Dumba rocks Drew O’Connor with a heavy hit in open ice. The puck was moved earlier and the refs award the Pens the game’s first power play. They get a few looks but can’t add to the lead.
Shots in the first are 18-5 Pens. They dominate the Wild and controlled the start of the game, but only have a one goal lead to show for it.
Special teams play defines the second period. Minnesota gets the first crack, one shot leaks through Tristan Jarry but Brian Dumoulin is there to clean up the loose puck and get it away before a Wild player can pounce.
The Pens get the next one and they score! Evgeni Malkin doesn’t record a point, yet played a key role in the sequence when his shot attempt drilled into Joel Eriksson Ek. That hobbled the quality defensive forward and he couldn’t get out to stop Rickard Rakell’s big shot that was fired into the net. 2-0 Pens.
The Wild then got another power play when Jake Guentzel high-sticked Matt Dumba, but the Pittsburgh PK was able to kill it off.
Minnesota got their feet under them and played better than their opening 20 but still couldn’t get a puck in the net. Jason Zucker headed to the penalty box with 46 seconds left for a closing bit of special teams time.
Shots in the second were 13-5 MIN, flipping the script a bit in large part due to a wealth of power play time. But part of the reason they had so much time was from not scoring to end their power plays. 2-0 Pens at the break.
The Penguins kill off the remaining Zucker penalty and then get back to work. Evgeni Malkin feeds Zucker who fires a shot again past the glove of Fleury. Some expert-level goalie screening-but-not-interfering done by Rakell in front to help cause some distraction in front. 3-0 Pens.
"Right here, right now, is the biggest period of the season for the Pens."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 7, 2023
Less than 10 seconds later: pic.twitter.com/hC5NEZEZy0
Jeff Petry went to the box on a high-sticking call and then the Pens got into further trouble when Rust took down a player and got nabbed for it. Minnesota was looking at 1:27 of 5v3 time as a result. It didn’t take long for them to get the puck low, work it around and Marcus Johansson made a stuff play from in tight that trickled in. 3-1 Pens with 12:21 to go.
The Wild keep pushing to get back in, but Jarry stands tall. The Pens then respond with a knockout shot. Dumoulin enters the offensive zone and lays a pass off for Drew O’Connor. O’Connor picks his head up, finds a passing lane and fires a beauty over for Jeff Carter to tip in. 4-1 Pens with 6:52 to go.
Penguins points recap (so far):— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 7, 2023
O'Connor 1A pic.twitter.com/ScbkUpBj9Y
Marcus Foligno doesn’t help the Wild’s cause when he takes a high-stick penalty with 4:30 left. The Pens wisely put two defensemen on the power play, not trying to score so much as just drain the clock away.
And it works, game ends and Pittsburgh skates away with an important win.
- With all eyes on this game as a de facto “must win”, it was a great team effort but the team leaders were driving the bus. Crosby won six of his first seven faceoffs and was making diving plays in the defensive zone. Letang was everywhere and had four SOG in the first period, including the opening goal. Guentzel had two assists. Rakell scored and was great in the offensive zone. Malkin set up Zucker for a goal. It’s always the same names.
- The first goal was a genius setup by Letang. Usually in the o-zone the defenders are flipped in positioning to allow for quick shots. Letang must have played a hunch and just before the puck dropped had Dumoulin switch sides for him. It worked out perfectly, giving Letang the far, open side of the rink to attack with his legs.
- The overall tone and tenor of this game was established by the Pittsburgh forecheck. They were all over Minnesota, set the pace early and turned up the heat in the first period. Minnesota adapted and figured out as the game went along how to avoid and work around it, but by then they were playing catch up in a big way.
- Tough night for Minnesota, Eriksson Ek didn’t return after blocking that Malkin shot and Oskar Sundqvist was also knocked out and didn’t play the third. Left the Wild’s bench mighty empty.
- The Pens were flirting with disaster by taking penalties frequently. They were very fortunate a player like Kirill Kaprizov was injured and not able to make them pay more than they did.
- Jarry had a strong night like everyone else. The team defense was mostly on point, but when called upon the goalie did his job. The only goal surrendered was in a 3v5 situation and even though it took some work, Jarry made the rest look fairly easy. Exactly what you needed and wanted to see from the net in a game like this one, no mistakes and good play.
- Not good news from the out of town scoreboard: Florida absolutely spanked Ottawa on some less-than-great goaltending displayed by the Senators. And the Islanders pulled away and at press time looking like they will win against Tampa. All three teams (PIT/FLA/NYI) fighting for two spots will probably leave in the same place that they were entering the night, and all parties have three games to go. The Pens are one point behind both other teams and need to win one more game than them. Someone’s gotta lose for the door to be opened, but at this point the Pens have enough trouble on their hands simply taking care of their own business.
But take care of business they did. It was a great effort, a lot of focused play, strong effort and attention to detail. With no margin for error left, the Penguins needed a quality performance to beat a formidable opponent to keep their season alive. Mission accomplished. Now they have to do it again on Saturday.