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Penguins/Devils Recap: Five unanswered goals gives Pittsburgh comeback win of the season

The Pens looked at the end of their rope losing 3-1 to New Jersey in the third period. Then, a turnaround for the ages. Or maybe just for today, but it was fun

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Pregame

The illness-effected Penguins roll with the following lineup. Reilly Smith did well enough on the top line to get another go, John Ludvig and Tristan Jarry remain too sick to dress which means Alex Nedeljkovic has to play on a second night in a row.

First period

Pittsburgh looks a step slow from right out the gates, but they scratch and claw their way to the game’s opening goal 7:54 into the proceedings. Michael Bunting drives to the net, Erik Karlsson steps up and takes a shot from the top of the circles that hits not one but two Devils players and jumps into the net. Not pretty, but the Pens will gladly take it.

Nedeljkovic is playing well but the cracks in the team are forming. Smith takes a penalty late in the period and the big shot by Timo Meier deflects off Marcus Pettersson and in. Tie game late in the period, looked like the Pens were going to get out of the first with a lead but it disappeared just like that after New Jersey scores 22 seconds after the penalty and only 17 seconds away from intermission.

Shots were 10-4 NJ, Pens in a mode to hang on right from the start.

Second period

P.O. Joseph takes a penalty, Pittsburgh kills it off but soon after New Jersey takes the lead. Curtis Lazar collects the puck and stuffs it in from close. 2-1 game.

The Penguins get their first power play of the game, but it doesn’t go well. Right after it ends, Smith blatantly tackles Meier heading up the ice and the Devils go back to their power play. The Pens hold but are totally on their back foot at this point. Nedeljkovic makes a heroic save on Dawson Mercer from point blank range.

Pittsburgh starts pressing as hard as they can, but get caught after a turnover and counter attack sends Jesper Bratt in all alone. Nedeljkovic can only stand on his head for so long. 3-1.

Shots go 21-12 overall by NJD, not a lot of juice for the Penguins.

Third period

The Pens get a power play early on but don’t score. Get a couple of shots at least, which helps build when Bratt gives Pittsburgh another shot at the power play. All four other players on the ice touch the puck within a few seconds and Sidney Crosby is able to smack a loose puck int the empty net in the chaos after it clicked off Malkin. 3-2 game, Pens have some life.

Less than a minute after that goal, the Pens do more than show life, they tie the game. Malkin flies by the goalie and deflects in a Jack St. Ivany point shot to bring the game back to even. New game with 12:05 to play.

Malkin drills Simon Nemec into the boards, the Devil stays down for a while and then a very late announcement of a two-minute minor penalty sends coach Mike Sullivan into the anger stratosphere. Pittsburgh kills it off at a critical time.

The Pens take a lead with 3:44 to go. Rickard Rakell puts a deflection on a Marcus Pettersson point shot. 4-3 Pittsburgh in a stunning turn of events.

Malkin adds on insurance with his second goal of the night. He hangs at the back door and has an easy tap in when Bunting gets the puck there. 5-3.

NJ pulls Jake Allen with plenty of time left and Crosby scores a goal on a friendly bounce. It looks like the captain is just trying to swing his stick and hack the puck away from Luke Hughes, but the puck rolls and slides on into the net. 6-3 game.

What a shocking turnaround, and for the first time in a long time it’s the Penguins on the right side of big, unstoppable rally.

Some thoughts

  • Wild that Karlsson’s goal broke a seven-game point drought. Not a goal drought, but any point. None at all since March 17th. Coming into tonight, Karlsson only had 0G+3A in the last 18 games. He’s polarizing so surely everyone was somewhat aware the points haven’t been there lately, but to that degree was frightening.
  • Then again, Karlsson made a huge save of the puck at the blueline to hold the zone in the lead up to the power play goal. Didn’t get a point on the play, nor did Bunting despite his crucial role in the goal. Another reminder that judging overall performance strictly by boxcar numbers doesn’t always capture the full story, but I didn’t think it would even be possible a player like Karlsson would only collect three points in 18 games.
  • It’s a well-worn trope (and supported by statistical evidence) that goalies don’t play well on the second night in a row. That wasn’t the case for Nedeljkovic. He was awesome tonight.
  • Kinda funny how the lead up to Bratt’s breakaway goal tonight was almost exactly the same as Emil Bemstrom’s breakaway goal last night. Team that is trailing starts pressing, defense starts moving up too aggressively, turnover in bad spot and boom, that’s all there is to it.
  • Malkin and his line fed the comeback. Malkin was a +4, on the ice for every Pittsburgh goal except Crosby’s ENG. Two goals and an assist for Geno in this one, arguably his finest game of the season.
  • To the world, the Pens looked like a sick bunch with no energy, jump, with heavy legs, whatever you want t call it through 40 minutes. Can’t say many could or would have expected five — FIVE! — unanswered goals in a row to empathically win a game on the road.
  • At press time, the Caps are losing 6-2 to lowly Buffalo (lol). The Islanders just scored to tie the game against even lowlier Chicago. Somehow Pittsburgh is about to be only three points behind Washington for the final playoff spot — setting the stakes for a massive contest in DC on Thursday.

The Pens keep winning and the season isn’t quite over just yet. A most unexpected turn of events means that there is some fun hockey to be had down the stretch after all this season.