Hornqvist's quick natural hat trick lifts Penguins past Avalanche
Already having blown a three-goal lead they built up in the first period, the Pittsburgh Penguins came into the third period Tuesday night on their heels.
Patric Hornqvist doesn’t know how to play on his heels.
The fiery Swedish winger scored three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 47 seconds, leading the Penguins to a 6-3 victory over the red-hot Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena.
It was the fastest natural hat trick in Penguins history, topping the mark of 4:10 set by Nils Ekman in 2006.
“Every time you need somebody to step up, you can count on him,” teammate Olli Maatta said. “He has another level. He somehow always finds a way to produce.”
Hornqvist’s barrage was all the more impressive because of the circumstances surrounding both teams coming into the game.
The Avalanche were the hottest team in the league, bringing in an 11-game points streak (9-0-2). The Penguins have been improving after a stretch where they lost nine of 10, but the growth has been slow and uneven.
A loss would have given the Penguins another three-game losing streak and a record under .500. Hornqvist didn’t let that happen.
“I think this is the turning point of our season,” Hornqvist said. “That was a great third period. You just keep building every single day from this day on, and we’ll be fine.”
Hornqvist’s onslaught started on the power play when Kris Letang, who had a blocked shot turned into a short-handed goal earlier in the game, put a puck on net from the left point. Hornqvist grabbed the rebound and scored a turnaround goal about six minutes in to make it 4-3.
It was the clear turning point in the game. The power play got its redemption, and the Penguins got a dose of confidence.
“I said to them after the second period, ‘Just keep your swagger,’ ” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We won the first period. They won the second period. We’ve got to go out and win the third period.”
On Hornqvist’s next shift, Evgeni Malkin stole a puck in the neutral zone and fed him on the right wing for a shot that went in under the arm of goalie Semyon Varlamov.
On the shift after that, after the Penguins forced a turnover on the forecheck, a Hornqvist shot from the slot took a deflection and eluded Varlamov to make it 6-3.
“The two last ones, they were lucky ones,” Hornqvist said. “You have one of those days sometimes when the puck is just coming right on your stick. You don’t think. You just shoot. If you don’t know where they’re going, I don’t think the goalie does either.”
Before Hornqvist’s heroics, the game was defined by two giant momentum shifts.
In the first, it was all Penguins. Letang danced past former Penguins defenseman Ian Cole and banked in a pass off Jake Guentzel’s skate. Malkin picked up a partially blocked Tanner Pearson shot and scored. Derick Brassard redirected in a Maatta slap pass from the left point. A couple of calls went the way of the Penguins, and they held a 3-0 lead.
In the second, it was all Avalanche. They got a couple of calls as well and used goals from Tyson Barrie on the power play, Carl Soderberg at even strength and Matt Nieto short-handed to forge a 3-3 tie.
“Our third period was actually really, really good,” Hornqvist said. “Our first, too. Just flush out that second period.”
Dominik Simon left the game with an injury in the first. Sullivan said he did not have an update on his condition afterwards.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.