Penguins keep streaking, beat Wild to end 2018
ST. PAUL, Minn. – An avid poker player, Phil Kessel knows drawing three of a kind three hands in a row can bring a potential windfall of chips.
The hockey equivalent has brought the Pittsburgh Penguins a windfall of wins.
Kessel recorded three points in three consecutive games for the first time in his career, backing another strong showing from goalie Casey DeSmith and leading the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night.
The Penguins closed out 2018 on a season-high six-game winning streak.
“When (Kessel) has some time and space, he’s as good a playmaker as there is in the league and he can shoot the puck as well himself. He’s got as dangerous a wrist shot as there is,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re trying to put him in offensive situations to allow him to play to his strengths, but he’s certainly helped us on the offensive side for sure.”
Kessel had a hand in all three Penguins goals, scoring one and setting up two others.
The first two came in the final five minutes of the first period as the Penguins turned a 1-0 deficit after a Mikko Koivu power-play goal into a 2-1 lead.
The first came at the hands of the red-hot Penguins power play after Nate Prosser took a kneeing minor to stop a Matt Cullen scoring chance.
Kessel gathered a puck on the right wing, faked a shot and threaded a pass through defenseman Ryan Suter’s legs in the slot to Sidney Crosby at the far post for a tap-in.
It was the fifth straight successful power play for the Penguins, who went 4 for 4 Saturday night in St. Louis.
“He passes pretty hard, so you’ve got to be ready,” Crosby said. “You see on the power-play goal there. I don’t know how it got it through. It was an unbelievable pass. When he’s got the puck, you have to be ready at all times. He made it easy on me there.”
Kessel scored in the final minute of the period.
Zach Aston-Reese stole a puck from defenseman Jared Spurgeon on the forecheck, leading to a bad-angle shot from Kessel in the right-wing corner that hit Suter’s stick and hopped past goalie Devan Dubnyk.
The goal seemed to wake up the Wild, who dominated the Penguins in the second period, taking a 13-7 advantage in shots and peppering DeSmith with a barrage of high-quality chances.
He stopped them all.
About nine minutes in, he used his left pad to stop an Eric Staal one-time slam from the top of the crease. In the final five minutes of the period, he stopped Jonas Brodin with the left pad as he barged alone down the slot and turned back Koivu on a two-on-one.
The Wild also had a goal waved off in the period when referees ruled that Luke Kunin batted in a Zach Parise shot with a high stick.
“It’s all about, as a goaltender, kind of managing the game and knowing when they’re kind of pressing and just doing what you can to hold them off until your team finds a way to push back and respond,” DeSmith said. “Luckily, I was able to do that a little bit during the second period.”
In between DeSmith’s saves, Riley Sheahan scored a critical second-period goal for the Penguins when his shot from the right wing tipped a stick and nestled in the top corner of the net behind Dubynk to make it 3-1.
It gave the Penguins the cushion they needed to withstand a Parise goal in the third period.
It was set up by a pass from – you guessed it – Kessel.
“He seems to be the one doing the dishing,” Crosby said. “It’s just getting him the puck. He’s making some great plays.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.