The Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineup has been depleted to some degree all season, but Sunday night was a new frontier.
Already missing Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marcel Goc, the Penguins sat Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Olli Maatta and Brooks Orpik to mend nagging injuries in lieu of battling the Colorado Avalanche in the second of back-to-back road games.
Holding out so many important players is a luxury for a team that has already clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, but playing it safe didn’t guarantee a loss, either.
The Penguins showed just that in an up-and-down affair at the Pepsi Center in Denver, eking out a 3-2 shootout victory to finish a three-game road Western Conference road trip at 2-1.
It was quite the departure from Saturday night’s result in Minnesota, a tepid and forgettable 4-0 defeat. Marc-Andre Fleury had a lot to do with the turnaround, denying 39 shots and all three Avalanche shootout attempts. Brandon Sutter did too, scoring both regulation goals while taking a turn as the team’s No. 1 center.
Sutter netted his 12th and 13th goals of the season less than four minutes apart early in the second period, building a 2-0 lead. His first of the night was an accurate snap shot while leading a 2-on-1 rush, while his second was a nifty deflection of Jussi Jokinen‘s pass during a power play.
But the Avalanche are a playoff team for the first time since 2010, and they lived up to that stature with a two-goal third period. Ryan O’Reilly broke Fleury’s shutout from close range 18 seconds into the frame, then Patrick Bordeleau tipped Tyson Barrie‘s point shot into the net with 3:13 to go.
Bordeleau’s equalizer came just moments after Sutter hit the post in a bid for a hat trick, but the Penguins (50-24-5, 105 points) nonetheless earned the two points when Jokinen netted the lone goal of the shootout.
Jokinen had been uncharacteristically cold in the skills competition until swooping across the crease and firing a forehand shot over Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov in the second round.
Fleury did the rest at the other end of the ice, maintaining his reputation as one of the game’s best netminders in the shootout. He stoned Barrie, O’Reilly and young Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog to wrap up the wild night.
After two straight games that featured 40 combined shots or fewer, the Pens and Avs tallied 73 in the thin air of Denver. It was one of the most entertaining contests of the year, despite Pittsburgh missing offensive-minded stars like Crosby, Malkin and Letang.
A three-game homestand wraps up the regular season, with a Wednesday matchup against potential playoff opponent Detroit looming next.