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Depleted Penguins knock off Wild, run home winning streak to nine

| Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, 9:58 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Chris Kunitz celebrates after beating Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom for a second-period goal Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

The exhausted Penguins had every reason to fold.

Instead, they produced the moment of their young season.

With Minnesota mounting a comeback in the third period at Consol Energy Center against a fatiguing group, the Penguins killed a two-man advantage for almost two minutes — and even produced a dramatic goal of their own — in a 5-2 victory over the Wild for their sixth straight win.

Looking comfortably ahead with a 4-0 advantage in the second period, the Penguins allowed the Wild to slide back into the game, and early in the third period at 4-2.

Then defenseman Olli Maatta and right wing Craig Adams were called for penalties within 14 seconds of each other, giving the Wild a two-man advantage for 1:46.

“That was a big deal,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who continued his strong play by producing a goal and an assist in 23:23 of action. “If they score there, it's a different game. Things get hairy.”

With two of their best penalty killers in the penalty box, the Penguins went to work. Robert Bortuzzo was the only defenseman on the ice for more than a minute, but he protected goaltender Jeff Zatkoff in front of the net.

“It felt like Borts was out there forever,” Zatkoff said. “The guys in front of me were unbelievable.”

Zach Sill and Pascal Dupuis also made significant plays to protect their goaltender.

Zatkoff did his share of fine work, too.

In the first minute of the kill, Zatkoff stoned Minnesota star Zach Parise twice. Parise also missed the net on another opportunity.

“It was a big point in the game,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

When the Penguins finally had killed the first penalty, much of the Consol Energy Center crowd was on its feet. That didn't change when Maatta stepped out of the penalty box and found himself on a breakaway, where he was pulled down and given a penalty shot.

Maatta beat goaltender Niklas Backstrom with a shot to the five-hole. It gave Maatta his third goal of the season and his second point of the night.

“I tried a move in practice three times, and that's the only move I've got,” Maatta said.

Whatever moves Maatta has are good enough for the Penguins. The 19-year-old continued his precocious play, which didn't surprise Bylsma, who is a believer in the rookie.

“Probably as early as February,” Bylsma said, “other teams' scouts were talking about Olli, saying that maybe he was ready for the NHL.”

Chris Kunitz scored a pair of goals for the Penguins to take over the team lead with 20, and Brandon Sutter also scored. Sidney Crosby recorded two assists to increase his league-leading point total to 51.

Despite playing without 40 percent of their regular lineup and with their backup goaltender, the Penguins earned their ninth straight home win and their sixth straight win overall. They lead the Washington Capitals by 14 points in the Metropolitan Division.

Adams said it was “very frustrating” being in the penalty box during such a crucial kill.

Once again, though, the young guys were up to the task.

The Penguins — no matter which players occupy the uniforms — are 16-3 at home and atop the Eastern Conference by five points over the Boston Bruins.

“Everyone got the job done,” Sill said. “The stars scored most of the goals, and the rest of us went to work.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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