PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins can play dazzling hockey at times. They can also occasionally flirt with disaster. They managed to do both in a 7-6 victory over New Jersey on Tuesday that started as a blowout before stunningly turning into something far more harrowing.
Nearly becoming the first NHL team to blow a six-goal, third-period lead will do that.
“Well I’ve never been through an experience like that,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s not an easy one to react.”
Or explain. Pittsburgh led 6-0 entering the third before the Devils put together a furious rally. Andreas Johnsson pulled New Jersey within one with 41 seconds remaining but the Devils couldn't generate another shot with the goaltender pulled.
By finding a way to hang on the Penguins became the first NHL club to win despite being outscored by five goals or more in the third, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It's not the kind of history a team with designs on reaching the Stanley Cup planned on making.
“My hope is that it's an outlier,” Sullivan said.
Pittsburgh chased New Jersey starting goaltender Scott Wedgewood by beating him four times in the first period and added two more on replacement Aaron Dell in the second. The final 20 minutes were supposed to be the hockey equivalent of bleeding the clock.
They weren't. The Penguins started, as forward Evan Rodrigues put it, to “run and gun.” The Devils were only too happy to join them.
Johnsson, Nico Hischier, Yegor Sharangovich, Nathan Bastian, Jack Hughes and Nolan Foote all beat Tristan Jarry in the third, though it wasn't quite enough to prevent New Jersey from dropping its seventh straight.
“Was there any quit in them? No. They stayed with it,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. "They didn’t quit. They weren’t afraid to make plays. ... They still wanted to make plays. ... If we could’ve executed early in the game on some of those chances, it was a game we could’ve scored nine or 10 really.”
It only seemed like they did in the third as New Jersey hardly looked like a team that is 1-9-2 in its last 12 games, with three of the losses coming at the hands of the Penguins. Pittsburgh pulled within a point of Washington and the New York Islanders for first place in the East Division with the win.
The teams meet again on Thursday and Saturday. The Devils hope their third period was a sign of things to come.
“It’s easier to play when you’re losing 6-0, so we chipped away,” Hughes said. "It’s embarrassing to be losing 6-0 in the NHL. Like I said, it’s impossible to win a game when you give up seven goals.”
CARTER FINDS THE NET
Jeff Carter, acquired from Los Angeles at last week's trade deadline to give the Penguins depth, speed and a dash of grit as the playoffs loom, beat Wedgewood with a blast from between the circles late in the first period to pick up his first goal since joining the team.
The goal was the 391st of Carter's career and first for a team other than the Kings since Feb. 21, 2012, when he played for Columbus.
“It was great for Jeff, I thought his line had another good game tonight,” Sullivan said. "For him to score that first goal as a Pittsburgh Penguin means a lot to him. I’m sure he can just relax and play now.”
SPREADING IT AROUND
Fifteen of Pittsburgh's 21 skaters — including Jarry — had at least one point.
Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust and Evan Rodrigues each had a goal and an assist. Jake Guentzel had two assists. So did Jared McCann, who now has 15 points in his last 14 games.
Mike Matheson, Teddy Blueger and Brian Dumoulin also scored for the Penguins. Dumolin's third goal of the season began with an innocent flip from centre ice that knuckled after hitting the ice and somehow found its way by Wedgewood.
“When it left my stick I felt like it had some bounce and some roll, could see the ice was pretty bouncy to begin with,” Dumoulin said. "I’ll take that bounce and take that luck.”
Wedgewood's 13th start of the season was also his most forgettable. He stopped just nine of the 13 shots he faced before being pulled in favour Dell to start the second period. Dell didn't fare much better, surrendering a goal on the first shot he faced as Pittsburgh posted its highest goal total since March 3, 2020, against Ottawa.
The Devils, as they did in losses to the Rangers over the weekend, made it interesting after falling woefully behind. Yet just as they did in New York, a late burst wasn't enough.
“Here’s what we need: To start it off, we need better goaltending,” Ruff said. “Flat out, need better goaltending. We’ve made some mistakes. Every team makes some mistakes. You’ve seen some of the goals that went in. Those are saves that need to be made.”
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