New record, new traditions
The Penguins returned to antiquated Mellon Arena on Wednesday night fresh off a wildly successful four-game road trip only to discover that even teenagers aren't above succumbing to NHL tradition.
Those teenagers responded by continuing to establish, as they have since the puck was first dropped Oct. 5 against Philadelphia, that if you keep working and keep competing, anything's possible, even in the face of long odds.
It took contributions from some of the older, more seasoned Penguins as well, the ones that have been eligible to vote and purchase alcohol legally for a couple of seasons at least. One of those, winger Nils Ekman, did his part by producing the fastest hat trick in Penguins' history. Ekman's second-period explosion bettered by one the two goals he had managed in the Pens' first 12 games and turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead.
Ekman worked his magic in 4:10, eclipsing the mark of 4:17 established by Lowell MacDonald on Nov. 13, 1973 against Cesare Maniago and the Minnesota North Stars.
In the end, Ekman's heroics weren't enough to extract victory from apparent defeat.
A third-period goal by Tampa Bay's Eric Perrin and another with 2:19 remaining in the extra session by the Lightning's Vincent Lecavalier forced the Pens to accept just one point for their effort in a 4-3 overtime setback.
Still, for the better part of two periods, it appeared the Pens would get nothing and like it.
They seemed destined to conform to the time-honored NHL tradition that stipulates the home team stinks up the joint in its first game back after a lengthy trip.
The Pens recently completed a four-game, three-time-zone excursion, and they responded initially by failing to accomplish much of anything.
The giveaway that something was amiss occurred at 10:12 of the second period, when Brad Richards scored on the power play for a 2-0 Tampa Bay lead.
In their last five games in succession, and in their last six such situations overall, the Pens had fallen behind 1-0 only to battle back and tie the game.
Sensing something drastic was required, coach Michel Therrien had separated Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin a couple of minutes before Richards' goal.
Ekman wound up skating with Crosby, who assisted on two of the three goals that comprised Ekman's first career hat trick.
The third goal resulted from a 3-on-2 created by Crosby's hustling jump up into the rush and entered the net via a tip-in from the slot.
Ekman stood frozen and exalted briefly before defenseman Ryan Whitney engulfed him from behind with a bear hug.
The crowd of 14,483 stood and applauded and littered the rink with ball caps.
That's another time-honored NHL tradition.
The Pens wound up being outshot, 31-20, but they were resilient enough to make their point.
That's something of a new tradition this year's Penguins are apparently intent upon establishing.
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