Jake Guentzel’s breakaway goal in overtime leads Penguins past Panthers
Locked in a tight battle with a game Florida Panthers club Tuesday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins needed a certain “it factor” to secure the two points in the standings they so desperately craved.
Jake Guentzel provided it.
Guentzel skated under a long, lob pass from Sidney Crosby and scored his second goal of the game 2 minutes, 16 seconds into overtime to give the Penguins a 3-2 victory at PPG Paints Arena.
“I’ve always been a believer that Jake has that ‘I-T.’ He just has it,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He can finish. It’s hard to describe it, but you know it when you see it and he has it.”
With the win, the Penguins moved into a tie with Carolina for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of Columbus and four points behind Washington and the New York Islanders. The Penguins and Blue Jackets play a home-and-home series starting Thursday.
The victory also helped the Penguins snap a three-game losing streak in games decided past regulation. They’re 5-7 in overtime this season.
“It’s kind of hurt us a little bit this year,” Guentzel said. “I think it’s something we all took pride in, that we need to be better. They’re big points right now, so we need to be good.”
Guentzel started the play by poking a puck free in the defensive zone. Crosby corralled it along the boards and processed the scene in front of him like a state-of-the-art supercomputer.
Guentzel was skating up ice with defenseman Mike Matheson on his hip. For a moment, Guentzel made eye contact with Crosby, but the captain held onto the puck. At the rate of speed he was traveling, with a defender all over him, Crosby figured Guentzel probably couldn’t receive a direct pass.
“When I didn’t give it to him when he looked at me, he probably thought it was coming a different way,” Crosby said.
Guentzel did think that, and he was right. Crosby sent a Phil Mickelson flop shot into the neutral zone, hoping Guentzel could beat Matheson to the loose puck.
“I wasn’t too confident,” Guentzel said. “You know (Matheson is) a really good skater. I wasn’t sure. Just try to get body position and go from there.”
Guentzel fended off Matheson with his left arm, controlled the puck just inside the offensive blue line and quickly moved in on net. He faked to the forehand, beat goalie Roberto Luongo with a backhand shot and crashed into the boards.
“Coming that speed, I think you’re just trying to get it on net,” Guentzel said. “Must have got him on the fake and got it on the backhand.”
Guentzel has a team-leading 33 goals in a breakout season.
“When he gets hot, it’s just a matter of finding him,” said Crosby, who, with 25 points in his last 12 games, knows a thing or two about being hot. “He’s confident in his shot. He knows when to be patient and when to shoot it.
“You can tell right now. He’s really poised with it. He’s finding different ways to score.”
Upper St. Clair native Vince Trocheck did his best to deal his hometown team a crushing late-season blow, helping to set up a first-period Henrik Borgstrom goal and tying the score 2-2 on a bad-angle one-timer in the second period.
The Penguins got a key third-period penalty kill and 32 saves from Matt Murray to give Crosby and Guentzel the chance to steal the show in overtime.
“I think that’s part of the reason why he has so much chemistry with Sid,” Sullivan said, “because of that ‘it factor’ that he has.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .