Penguins look to build on impressive comeback win
When the Penguins return home from the three-game road trip that starts Friday at the Carolina Hurricanes and ends Tuesday in Philadelphia, their regular season will be officially and, perhaps forebodingly, halfway finished.
It's a long season, however, and that's a good thing for the Penguins (19-16-3), who are three points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Division. The Penguins have 41 points to the Islanders' 44.
There was hopeful talk immediately after the Penguins rallied three times from two-goal deficits to defeat Columbus, 5-4, in a shootout Wednesday.
It marked only the sixth time in 38 games — second this month — that the Penguins reached their season high in goals.
“If you look at the overall effort, that was one of our most solid and consistent efforts we had all year, especially in the second period,” forward Tom Kuhnhackl said. “We were all over them. We outplayed them. We didn't get the goals, but we stuck with it and got rewarded in the third.”
After the victory, the phrases “signature win,” “character win” and “tone setter” were tossed around like the playoff surge was merely a matter of throwing the puck onto the ice.
Sidney Crosby, who joined Evgeni Malkin in scoring one of the shootout goals, knows better.
“We have to go out and follow it up and have some consistency,” he said. “If there's a time to find it, it's now. It's a tight race, and we have to find our way back to the playoffs.”
Three times previously this season Crosby and his teammates have been down this road:
• The Penguins defeated Ottawa, 3-1, on Nov. 16, holding the 2016-17 Eastern Conference runner-up to 22 shots. Next three games — Loss, loss, loss.
• The next night, the Penguins managed a season's first — winning the second of two games on consecutive days, 5-2, against Tampa Bay. The Lightning have the best record in the league, but that was the first of a four-game winning streak, followed by a dismal 3-6 stretch.
• In the midst of that slump, the Penguins beat Columbus, 3-2, on Dec. 21, also in a shootout. Two nights later, Anaheim whipped them 4-0.
Now, the Penguins get their fourth chance in nearly six weeks to use a big victory as a springboard. Long seasons can be forgiving.
“We just have to do it,” Crosby said. “We can talk about it all we want.”
Coach Mike Sullivan said his team has the proper makeup — physically and mentally — to erase deficits in games and resuscitate its season.
“Regardless of what the score is, this team is capable of coming back,” he said. “We haven't done it as much this year as we had in the past. I think that's something that has to become a part of the fabric of this team's identity.
“The way we won the game should give our team a boost of confidence that we are never out of it. As long as we stay the course and stay in the fight and continue to try to play the game the right way.”
Crosby understands the Penguins' serious injury situation. Bryan Rust, Matt Murray and Chad Ruhwedel are the latest to suffer significant upper-body injuries that will keep them inactive Friday.
Kris Letang, Ruhwedel and Rust were put on injured reserve Thursday.
But Crosby was pleased the Penguins were able to overcome.
“It would have been easy for guys to say it wasn't our night, we had some good looks, but it didn't happen,” he said. “But we didn't do that.”
Sullivan just shrugs at the adversity, aware other teams have the same problem, and no one feels sorry for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion.
“We've always had our fair share of injuries we had to fight through to have success, and this is no different,” he said. “It's going to test the depth of our team, but we believe we have that depth.”