PITTSBURGH — The Penguins keep losing high-profile players and keep winning games. It’s not ideal, but they’ll take it — for now at least.
Jake Guentzel and Jared McCann scored in a shootout and the Penguins ended a 10-game losing streak against the Chicago Blackhawks by rallying for a 3-2 victory Saturday night despite captain Sidney Crosby leaving in the third period with a lower-body injury.
The Penguins were already playing without Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist when Crosby gingerly made his way off the ice early in the third and did not return. Pittsburgh still improved to 4-1-1 in its last six despite spotting Chicago a two-goal lead.
Guentzel’s eighth of the season late in the second period gave the Penguins life and Bryan Rust’s fifth in six games since his return from injured reserve tied it midway through the third period. Guentzel and McCann both beat Corey Crawford in the shootout, and when Matt Murray turned away Alex DeBrincat, the Penguins had their first victory over Chicago since March 30, 2014.
“Shows a lot of character in this room, but we’re not making it easy on ourselves,” Rust said. “We do seem to have a pretty good leadership group in here and we do kind of know when to push a little bit harder.”
Patrick Kane collected his sixth goal of the season for Chicago and used some nifty stickhandling to slip the puck by Murray in the shootout. Dominik Kubalik added his fourth for Chicago. Crawford made 29 saves but couldn’t stop Guentzel’s flip between the goaltender’s legs or McCann’s wrist shot in the shootout.
“Would’ve been nice to come away with that game, but they’re a good team,” Kane said. “They’ve been playing well all year. They had a big comeback against the Islanders the other night. Obviously, nice to get a point. Hopefully keep building on what we have going on here, but it would’ve been nice to have two.”
Two days after storming back from three goals down in the third period to stun the Islanders in overtime, the Penguins followed a similar script to top the Blackhawks for the first time in more than five years.
Chicago squandered a chance to take the lead early in the second period when it failed to convert on an extended 5-on-3 power play. Kane had an excellent opportunity for the right circle but his one-timer missed everything, sailing over the goal, over the boards and into the netting.
Crawford turned aside Pittsburgh’s surge after the teams returned to full strength, and Kubalik gave the Blackhawks the lead 7:09 into the second when Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin whiffed while trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone. The mistake led to a three-on-one the other way, with Kubalik taking a feed from Brandon Saad and slamming it past Murray for his fourth of the season.
Kane doubled Chicago’s advantage just 98 seconds later, pouncing on the puck after teammate Calvin De Haan blocked a shot then racing the other way before beating Murray with a wrist shot at 9:47 to extend his scoring streak to a season-high five games.
Just as they did against the Islanders, Pittsburgh scrambled back. Guentzel drew the Penguins within 2-1 with 3:56 left in the second, though Malkin did much of the dirty work, swiping the puck near center ice, zipping down the left side and beating Slater Koekkoek to the post. Malkin then slipped a pass between Koekkoek and Crawford to a wide-open Guentzel racing down the slot. Guentzel easily put the puck into the open net for his eighth of the season.
Rust tied it when he finished off an extended Penguins’ push by camping below the left dot and delivering when a pass from John Marino found his stick.
“The biggest thing for me that Rusty has shown since Day 1 of training camp is a sense of urgency,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “When he plays that way, he’s at his best. I think he’s done that consistently day in and day out.”