PITTSBURGH — Was Tuesday’s 5-4 comeback win over the Vancouver Canucks fun or what?
Well, that depends on whether you coach the Penguins or were pounding the glass at PPG Paints Arena when the home team reeled off five straight goals.
Fans cheered as superstars scored, another leader landed a momentum-building bodycheck, the power play finally connected and their third-string goalie came up large in relief to help the Penguins secure their second victory in a row.
However, coach Mike Sullivan couldn’t have been thrilled about the run-and-gun hockey his team played, a few particularly greedy giveaways, the early hole they dug for themselves or the poor play of starting goalie Casey DeSmith.
Either way, Tuesday’s win presented wire-to-wire entertainment and agitation.
The first period was a wild one, with six total goals scored by the two teams, seven odd-man rushes allowed, per Sportlogiq, and one abrupt goalie change.
The Penguins had a strong opening push but quickly were staring at a 3-0 deficit, with DeSmith getting the hook after he gave up three goals on five shots.
Conor Garland blew by Pierre-Olivier Joseph on the rush then snapped a shot over DeSmith’s glove 4:46 into the game. About two minutes later, Brock Boeser made it 2-0 after pouncing on a loose puck in front of DeSmith. Then Quinn Hughes’ long shot through a screen trickled through the goalie at the 7:05 mark.
Sullivan instantly gestured to Dustin Tokarski, taking DeSmith out of the crease before the Canucks could pump another puck past him. DeSmith deserved at least a share of the blame for all three goals he coughed up Tuesday. And he has been sharp in just one of his three starts after Tristan Jarry was injured.
The Penguins stormed back to tie the score before the end of the first period.
Evgeni Malkin overpowered Spencer Martin with a one-timer from the right circle, snapping a stretch of 24 straight power plays without a goal for Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby converted a deft pass from Brian Dumoulin to pull them back within a goal. Then, after a Malkin faceoff win, Jason Zucker’s fluttering shot went in.
That was the 10th goal of the season for Zucker, making it the first time that he hit double digits in a season with the Penguins. He also helped set the tone Tuesday in other ways, including his monster hit on Garland in the neutral zone in the first period and his assist on Malkin’s go-ahead goal early in the second.
Malkin gave the Penguins a 4-3 lead while the two teams skated 4-on-4. He stole the puck from Ilya Mikheyev before finishing off a give-and-go with Zucker.
Later in the second period, Rickard Rakell scored another power-play goal. It was made possible by a sparking stop by Tokarski on Elias Pettersson. That was the second time he stuffed the young Canucks star on a short-handed breakaway. The Penguins went the other way and Rakell swatted in a rebound goal.
Tokarski got the win in relief in his first career appearance in a Penguins uniform, stopping 18 of 19 shots. This is the journeyman’s second stint with the organization. He was called up last week after Jarry went down. Prior to that, he was one of the American Hockey League’s top goalies with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Travis Dermott beat Tokarski with 7:08 left in regulation to cut the Pittsburgh lead back down to one. But the Penguins held on for their second straight win.
— With two goals and two assists, Malkin notched a season-high four points.
— Dumoulin was down in pain after a collision in the corner in the second period but returned without missing a shift. It was a strong night for the maligned defender, who set up Crosby and also had a key pass breakup on a 2-on-1 as the Penguins were making their comeback. We will see if he practices Thursday.
— Jarry skated Tuesday morning for the first time since the Winter Classic. Sullivan said the goalie’s status is day to day but he added that his return to the Penguins lineup is not imminent. He will likely sit out at least two more games.
— Jeff Petry, Josh Archibald and Ryan Poehling sat out again. Petry and Archibald skated on an individual basis before the morning skate. Poehling did not.
— Kris Letang as of Tuesday remained in Montreal after the death of his father.
After a scheduled off day Wednesday, the Penguins will practice Thursday at PPG Paints Arena ahead of their back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.
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