Fourth line fuels offensive outburst for Penguins vs. Flyers
PHILADELPHIA — Conor Sheary and Phil Kessel sat in a corner of the postgame locker room, sharing a laugh.
Ryan Reaves joked about asking Jakub Voracek for a fight.
On his way to the team bus, Justin Schultz peered under an empty palate on the ground floor of the Wells Fargo Center after seeing a rat scurry in that direction.
For one night at least, the Penguins blew the lid off their pressure cooker of a disappointing season and celebrated a decisive 5-1 victory over the rival Philadelphia Flyers.
Fourth-line wingers Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl led the way, scoring during a four-goal second-period explosion.
“We know these guys care,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “And they try. It's never easy when your team goes through the struggles that we've gone through here to try to get in the win column and stay in the playoff race. I thought it was a great effort by everybody.”
The win kept the Penguins out of the basement in the Metropolitan Division. Coming into the game, they led the last-place Flyers by one point.
“It's a big rivalry,” Reaves said. “Obviously you want to bury your rivals.”
The Penguins took control with three goals in a four-minute span with the score tied 1-1 midway through the second.
The first goal came when Riley Sheahan dragged a puck to the blue paint and Reaves jammed it past goalie Brian Elliott. It was Reaves' second goal of the season, snapping a 37-game drought.
Reaves was in fine form during his postgame meeting with reporters.
First, he revealed the nickname he uses for Sheahan.
“Shebang kind of stepped up,” Reaves said.
Then he explained why, after recording a goal and an assist, he didn't complete the Gordie Howe hat trick with a fight.
“I asked Voracek, but he said no,” Reaves said. “I was very shocked. He's pretty tough.”
Finally, he said he was looking forward to talking to Elliott, his good friend from their days as teammates in St. Louis.
“You guys are keeping me. I gotta go chirp him right now,” Reaves said. “Chirp him and thank him, obviously.”
Forty seconds after Reaves scored, Sheary won a race with defenseman Andrew MacDonald for a loose puck in the neutral zone and scored on a breakaway, netting his second goal in his last 12 games.
Less than two minutes after that, Kuhnhackl took a pass from Sheahan at the left hash marks and muscled a shot under the crossbar. It was his second goal of the season.
“We're just glad we saw the pucks go in the net,” Kuhnhackl said.
It was the kind of offensive outburst that became the Penguins' trademark over the last two championship seasons but hadn't happened much lately.
“We were working hard (before Tuesday). It just seems like the story of the year. We weren't burying our chances,” Sheary said. “I think tonight was definitely a momentum builder for us. Hopefully we can string a few together.”
From an injury perspective, the game was a bloodbath for the Penguins.
Starting goalie Tristan Jarry left in the second period after suffering an apparent wrist injury on a Michael Raffl slash during a net-front scramble.
Brian Dumoulin played two shifts after taking a Claude Giroux shot to the head in the second period but did not finish the game.
Carter Rowney didn't take a shift past the first period because of an injury.
Sullivan said all three will be re-evaluated when the team returns home.
Jamie Oleksiak also went to the locker room with an injury in the second period, but he returned for the third and was feeling well enough to score his first Penguins goal on a power play with about six minutes left and record a fighting major.