Tim Benz: Gushing over Jake Guentzel’s OT goal and what it means for Penguins | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz

When it comes to praising the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-era Penguins, as a fanbase — and media corps — we can get a little …

What’s the word I’m looking for?

Gushy? Effusive? Flowery? Fawning?

Yeah. Any of those fit. Big picture, given the franchise’s accomplishments over those years, that applause is undoubtedly warranted. The team has had a fantastic run.

Game-to-game, or moment-to-moment, sometimes we go overboard. Not every Crosby goal batted out of the air reinvents the game. Not every Marc-Andre Fleury snow angel was the greatest save of all-time. And not every positive Kris Letang play has to be “proof that he’s a Norris candidate.”

But when it comes to the Crosby-Jake Guentzel connection on the overtime game winner last night to beat Florida, 3-2, I don’t mind leaning in that direction.

That was a sight to behold. There was just so much to like about it.

The steal

We’ll get to the pass and the shot in a moment.

None of it happens, though, if Guentzel doesn’t hustle to poke the puck free from Mike Matheson in the Penguins’ defensive zone to begin the play.

Then, how about how quickly he got up to speed through Matheson’s traffic and sensed that the flip pass was coming from Crosby?

The pass

As I referenced earlier, we tend to heap so much praise on Crosby for his hockey “sixth sense” — the vision, creativity, and intelligence that make the subtle beauty of his game cease to be so subtle.

Sometimes a nice little play from Crosby is honestly that. Just a nice little play. And, at times, you can see Crosby get uncomfortable in postgame Q&A sessions when excessive kudos of the basics surrounding his game get bestowed upon him.

But, c’mon. That aerial flip pass to Guentzel was truly something else. It was the perfect read to make. It was precisely lofted and angled to give Guentzel time to get free. And it was deftly dropped onto the ice surface for Guentzel to corral.

“I saw (Guentzel) was even with their defenseman,” Crosby said. “I just tried to put a puck in an area and hoped he’d skate into it.”

In Pittsburgh, we so often say, “That’s something only Sidney Crosby can do,” it’s a wonder anyone else is allowed to create a highlight at all.

But in that situation, to pick up the loose puck and immediately go backhand-forehand and place the flip with that type of precision, that genuinely was an “only-Sid” type of pass.

The goal

Pfft! What an effort by Guentzel.

He wasn’t to be denied.

Matheson is about 4 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Guentzel. Yet, Guentzel powered through Matheson to gain initial separation. Then he fought through a stick check once he got to open ice.

The finish? That was pure filth to beat Roberto Luongo. It was especially impressive because Guentzel was working so hard to get free that he didn’t have time to think about what moves to use.

“Coming with that speed, you are just trying to get it on net,” Guentzel said. “But once I got him on the fake, and he got on his back, it was in the net.”

Guentzel claims he wasn’t “very confident” about his chances of escaping Matheson in the first place.

Could have fooled me.

The moment

The Penguins had been only 4-7 in overtime before this win. That made little sense given all of the pure scoring talent on the Penguins bench. That should manifest in 3-on-3 play more often, shouldn’t it?

“It’s been a frustration point from my standpoint this year because we’re capable of a lot better,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “When you think about the overtime opportunities that we haven’t maximized, we’d be in a lot better position if we did.”

To underscore Sullivan’s point, that was a crucial extra point. It allowed the Penguins to wake up this morning in the top wild-card spot with 79 points. That’s tied with Montreal, who defeated the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday to stay in the No. 2 wild-card spot, and two points better than Columbus, which defeated the New Jersey Devils in a shootout Tuesday.

The extra point also allowed the Penguins to gain ground on the Hurricanes, who lost 4-3 in overtime in Boston. Both Carolina and Pittsburgh now have 79 points.

Yeah, get gushy over that one. It’s more than worth it.

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