Jared McCann scores twice; Penguins earn confidence-boosting win in Columbus
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets, by most accounts, won the NHL trade deadline with a flurry of high-profile acquisitions.
All the Pittsburgh Penguins did was plug a hole or two caused by injuries on the blue line.
Consequently, and for good reason, pundits are talking with great excitement about the Blue Jackets’ chances down the stretch while largely forgetting about the Penguins.
“I didn’t forget about us,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “We’ve got a hell of a team in this room.”
Jared McCann, a player the team acquired a few weeks before the deadline, scored a pair of goals as the Penguins secured a 5-2 victory over the Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
It was a significant win for the Penguins. It stopped a downward slide in momentum caused by injuries to Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin and a pair of ugly losses to San Jose and Philadelphia.
It also moved the Penguins one point ahead of Columbus and into a tie with Carolina in the race for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. The teams will meet twice more in the next 11 days.
“We feel like, moving forward, this is the team we want to play with,” McCann said. “We’ve been meshing. We’ve got to keep going.”
With the Penguins clutching a 3-2 lead late in the third period, McCann batted a puck to himself in neutral ice, skated up the left wing and beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Penguins needed breathing room.
Sidney Crosby added an empty netter with 4.9 seconds to go.
“Jared’s a guy that’s shown an ability to score,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He can really shoot the puck. I think he’s gaining confidence with each goal that he scores. He obviously had a big night for us tonight.”
The Penguins, however, continued to be hit hard by injuries.
Bryan Rust left in the first period when his left leg went awkwardly into the boards on a hit by Columbus’ Adam McQuaid. Chad Ruhwedel left when he was hit into the glass by Nick Foligno behind the net in the second period.
Sullivan said both would be evaluated once the Penguins returned home. Rust was on crutches after the game. Ruhwedel was in a sling.
The Penguins jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, getting goals from Jake Guentzel and McCann in the first period and Evgeni Malkin in the first two minutes of the second.
The Penguins took three consecutive offensive-zone penalties in the second period and paid for it.
Oliver Bjorkstrand scored on a delayed high-sticking call, and Cam Atkinson converted on a power play to make it 3-2.
The Penguins held on in the third period thanks to a strong effort from a makeshift defense corps. The de facto top pair of Johnson and Justin Schultz played more than 26 minutes.
Behind them on the depth chart, Marcus Pettersson, Juuso Rikkola and call-up Zach Trotman held up under pressure.
“I thought we defended really hard as a group of five out there,” Sullivan said. “Obviously, the guys stepped up through some of the injuries, played more minutes than probably they’re accustomed to, but I thought they did a good job.”
The Penguins caught a couple of breaks when a first-period Seth Jones goal was waved off for goaltender interference because Murray and Boone Jenner clashed skates and a third-period three-on-none by Columbus went awry.
Given their recent injury luck, the Penguins weren’t apologizing for a few meager pieces of good fortune.
“Big confidence builder,” McCann said. “We came out hard. We kind of let up there in the second, but we found a way to get the two points.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .