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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Matt Vensel

Penguins squeeze two points out of game vs. Avalanche with 2-1 OT win

PITTSBURGH — In their first game in 10 days, the Penguins were absolutely dominated by Nathan MacKinnon and the defending Stanley Cup champs at PPG Paints Arena.

But thanks to 37 saves in regulation from Casey DeSmith and a fluky late goal by Bryan Rust, the Penguins somehow squeezed two points out of this game. Kris Letang scored the winner on a delayed penalty with 1:24 left in overtime.

The 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche snapped their two-game losing skid.

With 3:38 in regulation, the Penguins finally put a puck past Pavel Francouz, the Avalanche goalie. Jason Zucker sent a shot through the goalie and out the other side. But Evgeni Malkin whipped the puck right back into the blue paint, where it hit Francouz then caromed in off of Rust’s skate for the tying goal.

Letang nearly won it for the Penguins early in overtime, but Francouz dropped his stick and scooped up the puck just before it trickled over the goal line.

The Avalanche had chances in OT, too, including a 4-on-3 power play. Soon after the Penguins killed that, Letang roofed a shot over a flopping Francouz.

The Penguins eased back in after the All-Star break with another lifeless start. The Avalanche fired the first eight shots, not including one MacKinnon clanged off the crossbar. The Penguins didn’t get their first until 11:16 into the game.

They finally started stacking solid shifts late in the period, perhaps because all of that puck possession tuckered the Avalanche out. Marcus Pettersson made a slick pass to set up Brock McGinn then the Crosby line buzzed. Jake Guentzel had their best chance yet with 10.5 seconds remaining but couldn’t convert.

The Avalanche grabbed complete control in the second, when it felt like no player touched the puck other than MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Evan Rodrigues, the former Penguins forward who is now thriving in a prominent role in Colorado. They had twice as much offensive zone possession during that period.

MacKinnon got his inevitable goal midway through the second, after Guentzel was called for hooking in the offensive zone, short-circuiting a Pittsburgh power play. Penalties on the power play have been an underdiscussed but recurring problem for the Penguins as they pile up their mountain of mental miscues.

MacKinnon’s go-ahead goal was an incredible individual effort by one of the NHL’s preeminent players. He dusted Pettersson and Jeff Petry as he hugged the corners behind the Pittsburgh net then looped back in front. Through a thicket of legs, he finally beat DeSmith on the Avalanche’s 24th shot of the evening.

The good DeSmith showed up Tuesday. He made 13 saves during the first period, none better than when he turned away MacKinnon on a 2-on-1. In the second, he kept the Penguins within a goal with difficult stops on Rodrigues and Denis Malgin. He made two point-blank saves on Matt Nieto early in the third.

It was arguably, especially when considering the firepower in white and maroon, DeSmith’s best start of the season. He made another three saves in OT.


— Sullivan shuffled all four of his forward lines coming out of the All-Star break. Rust and Rickard Rakell flip-flopped again. Jeff Carter moved back into the middle of the third line. Kasperi Kapanen and Josh Archibald were activated from injured reserve and plugged into the third and fourth lines, respectively.

— Archibald, a fourth-line sparkplug, played his first game since Dec. 18. He sat out 18 games due to his lower-body injury. Kapanen, meanwhile, was back after missing the last five games before the break with a lower-body injury.

— The Penguins on Tuesday also placed starting goalie Tristan Jarry on injured reserve, a procedural move that indicates nothing about his timetable to return to the lineup. He was a participant in Tuesday’s optional morning skate.

— Drew O’Connor, Danton Heinen and Mark Friedman were healthy scratches.

— Sidney Crosby saw his scoring streak get snapped at seven games. But his line, with Guentzel and Rakell on his wings, was the one that consistently generated offense for the Penguins. Guentzel had a boatload of shots on goal.

— Entering Tuesday, Rodrigues had 11 goals and 26 points in 37 games with his new team. Before the game, he said he would have loved to remain in Pittsburgh. But the Penguins balked at his initial asking price last summer. So did the rest of the NHL. He inked a one-year deal with the Avalanche on Sept. 12.


The Penguins are scheduled to practice Wednesday in Cranberry before taking off for California. Their three-game West Coast trip begins Friday in Anaheim.

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