Kris Letang amassed two goals and two assists, including the game-winner with 54 seconds left on the clock in overtime, in his first appearance of 2023 to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a damaging 7-6 victory over the Florida Panthers at PPG Paints Arena.
The Panthers, who were forced to start Alex Lyon again 24 hours after a lousy performance in Manhattan, now find themselves four points out of a playoff spot after failing to hold three different leads.
Expected starter Spencer Knight was “not ready to go” - whatever that means... I mentioned on Monday morning that I thought sending Mack Guzda back down to Charlotte so quickly might not have been the best idea given the circumstances and schedule. Way to leave the team unprepared in goal in such a huge spot.
Sam Reinhart opened the scoring at 6:42 with yet another skate to stick goal after Aaron Ekblad’s shot, which was blocked in slot, came to him and he caught Casey DeSmith out of position. Aleksander Barkov got the second assist for sending the puck to Ekblad at the right point.
The Cats added on 1:26 later when Matthew Tkachuk whacked down then whacked in the rebound of Brandon Montour’s shot from high-center in the offensive zone with Marcus Pettersson off for holding. Tkachuk’s goal was his 25th with Barkov getting the second helper again for his 30th assist of the season.
Great start, but the Panthers would fall behind by surrendering goals to Rickard Rakell and Danton Heinen exactly a minute apart, followed by Letang’s successful redirection at 18:14.
Carter Verhaeghe quickly responded by chasing down Ekblad’s overly long outlet pass and chipping it by a challenging DeSmith with 41 seconds left in the frame. Great individual effort by Verhaeghe, who matched his career-high of 24 goals.
After a first period full of fireworks the teams settled down a bit, trading special teams goals to go to the third knotted at four.
First, Ekblad put the Panthers back on top at 10:34 by joining Tkachuk and Reinhart on a shorthanded rush. After taking a pass from Tkachuk and gaining the zone, Reinhart sweetly slipped the puck to a flying Ekblad, who snapped a shot past DeSmith.
A late tripping call on Tkachuk gave the Penguins their third power play of the period and it turned out to be the charm. A puck sent towards the Florida zone hopped over Anton Lundell’s stick and went right to Sidney Crosby, who sped by Gustav Forsling, in on net and easily solved Lyon with a backhand through the wickets at 19:19.
Seeing his first action in ten days, Colin White took a sweet little backhand dish from Nick Cousins, after Ryan Lomberg won the puck along the boards, and maneuvered around DeSmith to light the lamp 4:10 into the third. Tight work by the fourth line.
Drew O’Connor would finish off a pretty backdoor pass from Ryan Poehling on the second try, after totally flubbing the first, following a bad Lyon rebound on Heinen’s initial shot to tie the game at 10:29.
Pittsburgh took its second lead of the game 3:11 later when Evgeni Malkin one-timed Crosby’s cross by Lyon from just above right circle with Cousins serving a hooking penalty.
Verhaeghe wouldn’t be satisfied with matching his career-high in goals, so he set a new one and tied Tkachuk for the team lead in goals with 2:32 left in regulation on another superb individual effort.
In overtime, the zebras deemed Montour guilty of high-sticking Jeff Petry and 40 seconds later Letang took a short pass from Malkin and blew a shot by a screened Lyon to end it.
Lots of goals, lots of disappointment, lots of work to do...
Emperors & Rockhoppers
- Kris Letang’s game-winner tied him with San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson for the most overtime points by a defenseman (31) in NHL history. Letang had four points, six shots, four hits and two blocks in 26:29 TOI. Talk about a triumphant return. Holy schitt’s creek!
- In addition to scoring twice, Carter Verhaeghe matched Letang for the game-high in shots and extended his point streak to six games. The red-hot Verhaghe has four goals in the last three games.
- Go shorty... Aaron Ekblad, who collected three points, became the first defenseman in Panthers history to score multiple shorthanded goals. Ekblad notched his first against the Philadelphia Flyers back on March 2, 2017.
- Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Danton Heinen each had a goal and two assists for the Penguins, who moved past Washington into the wild card one slot.
- it was an ugly night in the nets. Alex Lyon finished with 42 saves on 49 shots while Casey DeSmith stopped 33 of 29 shots.
- For more on this wild and wooly 80s style barnburner, check out Pensburgh.