Recap: Call it a comeback! Pens roar to beat Vegas 5-3

Pregame

Some happy returns for Pittsburgh with Bryan Rust and Jason Zucker back in the lineup and in their usual top-six roles.

First period

Not a great start for the Penguins, Zucker gets the first chance of the game on a 2-on-1 but Robin Lehner makes a glove save on him.

Vegas turns around and scores on their first shot of the game, when Chandler Stephenson gets a pass and rushes down the left side. Stephenson shoots quickly and beats Tristan Jarry through the five hole. 1-0 Golden Knights at just 3:43.

The Pens seem to take a break when Vegas is whistled for too many men. It’s a power play disaster though, Kris Letang makes several passes that aren’t there, one is returned and Letang has to snag the Vegas player to avoid a chance, sending Letang himself into the box. Pittsburgh kills him.

After Pittsburgh iced the puck twice, Evgeni Malkin lost a tie in the d zone and Vegas struck again to make it 2-0. Mark Stone’s long shot deflected in front and slipped under Jarry’s pad.

Pittsburgh stabilized a bit with some good changes from the Crosby line, but that was undone when Brian Boyle lifted the stick from a Golden Knight and was called for hanging for some reason. Vegas has a second power play. This time they convert with Nic Roy finishing just ahead for a tap-in with Jarry losing his net. 3-0 and full of ugly.

The period is coming to an end and the pens are saved by the buzzer. The shots are 8-6 Pittsburgh, but somehow three of those shots end up in the net. Terrible start for Pittsburgh, which allowed three goals against in the first period for the first time this season.

Second period

After being able to regroup during the intermission (and probably hearing about it from the coach), the Pens come out better in the second. The big change from the Malkin line is followed by Evan Rodrigues driving to the net and drawing Pittsburgh’s second power play of the game. No dice.

The Pens continue and the fourth line + Mike Matheson shoot a penalty for a Pens third powerplay. The second group gets it. Zucker drives the puck to the net and starts hacking and punching. Jeff Carter crashes too and eventually Zucker gets the puck in the net. 3-1.

Shots in the second are Pens 11-0, complete dominance and they get another goal. Matheson makes a nice pass across the ice to Boyle (!!!) who is on the play. Lehner stops Boyle’s shot but the rebound sits on a board for Teddy Blueger to dive and settle into the net. Two goals 49 seconds apart to give Pittsburgh plenty of life and momentum.

With just 8:30 left in the period for Vegas to get a shot on goal. Really, really strong medium setting for visitors. The Pens beat the Golden Knights 18-6. The only downside is that they can’t fully get out of the hole they threw themselves into in the first half, because after 40 it’s 3-2 for Vegas.

Third period

Just 28 seconds later, the Pens tied it. After being on the wrong end of a d-zone face-off leading to a goal against, the Malkin line finds redemption with a draw from the o-zone turning into a goal. Malkin wins without fail, back to Kasperi Kapanen who snaps it to the net. The puck hits Zucker’s stick and Lehner can’t follow it at all. Game 3-3.

On that basis, less than two minutes later, the Pens took the lead for the first time. It’s Jake Guentzel’s 20th of the season as he glides around the net and slots in a wrapping forehand home. 4-3 Pens but still with 17:48 remaining on the clock.

Vegas wakes up a bit and finally puts itself under pressure, but Jarry manages to stabilize his game.

With around 1:45, VGK fires Lehner for an additional striker. It doesn’t work, Crosby hits the empty net. 5-3 pens.

Some ideas

  • Tonight was the first time the Pens had their full attacking skills (Malkin, Rust, Guentzel, Crosby) and the result was that Evan Rodrigues (he has six PPGs this season) was dropped from the leading group in favor of the other four. Unfortunate.
  • Zucker hit the back of the net for the first time since November 22 in his second leg. Probably a sneaky good candidate to have a hot second half of the season if he’s healthy and can start finishing.
  • Jarry’s night was weird. He’s been beaten a few times this year by quick wrists across the five hole, and has been again. A deflection is always difficult for a goalkeeper, Jarry was in position but unable to prevent a puck from going under his pad, then he lost his net a bit. Not a miserable night, but not as loud as we’ve grown accustomed to expecting.
  • Jarry also misplayed the puck behind the net in the second period, almost giving up an away goal. There have been a lot of little signs like that in his last games that his game hasn’t been as light and flawless as it was earlier. Not necessarily a worrying trend, anyone’s game will fluctuate a bit, but maybe it’s noticeable that they’re fighting it right now.
  • Most of the season, Jarry picked up the Pens. The opposite was to happen tonight. Sometimes it happens.
  • In terms of puck movement, I think it was one of Matheson’s best and standout games in a long time. That stint on the ice at Boyle was a thing of beauty. He also had other good dishes, including one at Crosby which resulted in a good hit.
  • Vegas was 16-0-0 going into the game as they led after two periods. It also marks only the second game in the young franchise’s history when they had a three-goal lead in a game and ended up losing it.
  • 4-2-0 road trip for the Pens, not bad at all, especially considering Pittsburgh’s struggles out west in recent years. Some periods and complete matches weren’t always the best, but the end results were positive.

The Pens can finally head back east and have a few days to regroup for Thursday’s home game against Ottawa.

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