PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang’s reintroduction to the lineup was just the spark the Penguins needed as they operated without a key defensive cog on a night where defense was at a deficit.

The defenseman had the game-winning goal in overtime as the Penguins prevailed over the Florida Panthers with a wild 7-6 overtime win Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena. It was a battle of backup goalies, as Casey DeSmith started in place of Tristan Jarry (a late scratch due to injury, according to the team) and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky was sidelined with a lower-body injury.

Jarry’s absence was felt immediately as the Panthers slid two attempts on net past DeSmith in the opening eight minutes of play. Florida’s first goal came via Sam Reinhart, who poked in a shot from the crease after Pittsburgh’s defense failed to get a clear. Shortly after (and following a Marcus Pettersson holding penalty), Matthew Tkachuk doubled the Panthers’ lead on the power play.

Pittsburgh notched the next three goals and Letang registered points on two of them. Letang saucered a pass from the point to Evgeni Malkin, who tipped the puck ever so slightly in the direction of Rickard Rakell. At the Panthers’ porch, Rakell took over for his 18th goal of the season.

Exactly 60 seconds later, Danton Heinen made up for his squandered breakaway opportunity earlier in the period. Following Florida goalie Alex Lyon’s pad save on a Ryan Poehling close-range shot, Heinen flicked in his first goal in three months.

Letang promptly gave the Penguins their first lead of the evening on his second goal against the Panthers this season. After he maneuvered with the puck behind Florida’s net for a few seconds, the Panthers lost track of Letang. Brian Dumoulin didn’t, though, as he dished off to the offensive-minded defenseman for a redirection that was just far enough away from Lyon’s outstretched left leg.

But the Panthers got one back before the intermission. DeSmith elected to come off his line on a loose puck deep in Pittsburgh’s end. Carter Verhaeghe beat the netminder to the free disc and flipped his shot over DeSmith to close out the opening frame’s fireworks.

Florida’s fourth score was of a third variety. Instead of scoring at even strength or on the power play as they did in the first period, the Panthers overcame a tripping penalty against Gustav Forsling to net a shorthanded goal courtesy of Aaron Ekblad.

Sticking with the tune of Tuesday’s back-and-forth game, Florida’s lead didn’t hang for long. While Pittsburgh was on the power-play, Sidney Crosby scooped up an idle puck near Florida’s blue line during a broken play. The captain slithered a backhanded shot through Lyon’s five-hole to even the score once again before the second break.

Florida’s offense would not hang tight in the final frame, though. Another Penguins turnover in their own end presented the Panthers with a golden scoring chance that Colin White took full advantage of. The fourth-line center dangled for just long enough to drop DeSmith into his stance, which allowed for White to wrap the puck around the goalie’s left skate.

The Panthers’ third lead of the night, like their previous two, soon evaporated. Ryan Poehling whipped a backhanded pass toward the net and luckily enough for him, Drew O’Connor was right there to hammer home the Penguins’ fifth tally of the evening.

The Penguins’ power play struck again in the closing minutes of regulation, this time for the game-winner. Evgeni Malkin ripped a one-timer past Lyon to put Pittsburgh up 6-5 with just minutes remaining in the third.

With Pittsburgh seemingly on the verge of eking out two points on an offensively-driven night, Verhaeghe logged his second goal of the evening to make it an unorthodox 6-6 game that gave way to overtime.

In the extra period, the Penguins went on the power play one final time and it was none other than Letang who provided the finishing touches with a game-winning goal.

ICE CHIPS

— Letang played for the first time since Dec. 28 after being activated from long-term injured reserve. A game-time decision for coach Mike Sullivan after the morning skate, Letang quarterbacked Pittsburgh’s first power-play unit while Jeff Petry handled the second group

— To help make room for Letang (and his cap hit due to his sizable contract), Josh Archibald was moved to long-term injured reserve, per CapFriendly. Though he worked out with the team at full capacity for the morning skate, Archibald still has yet to play since Dec. 18 against the Carolina Hurricanes

— Earlier in the day Tuesday, the Penguins placed Jan Rutta on long-term injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 14 due to his upper-body injury. In accordance with the NHL, Rutta is required to be out for 10 games and 24 days. He will be eligible to return on Feb. 14 when the Penguins face the Sharks in San Jose

— Kasperi Kapanen (lower-body) was moved to injured reserve prior to Tuesday’s game. Though he joined the team for portions of the Penguins’ morning skate, Kapanen hasn’t played since Jan. 18 against the Ottawa Senators. If he’s good to go, he’d be able to come back for Thursday’s road game against the Washington Capitals

— Despite being announced as the team’s starting netminder following the morning skate, Jarry surprisingly did not get the nod in net. Instead, it was DeSmith who started for the Penguins. Jarry had played every minute of Pittsburgh’s last two games since returning from a lower-body injury that sidelined him from the Winter Classic onward

STAT N’AT

93 – Heinen’s first-period goal represented his first score in 93 days. He netted two goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 22 but had since been held scoreless while shuffling in and out of the lineup.

COMING UP

The Penguins will practice in Cranberry on Wednesday before trekking down to Washington, D.C. for a quick one-game road trip. Pittsburgh will square off with the Capitals at their home of Capital One Arena at 7 p.m. on Thursday night.

©2023 PG Publishing Co. Visit at post-gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Copyright 2023 Tribune Content Agency.

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