PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins don’t panic when things get sideways. Call it one of the fringe benefits of having the NHL’s oldest team.
They’ve been through so much, not much phases them. Even a four-goal deficit at home against Columbus on Tuesday night when it was hard to tell at times which club began the night with the league’s worst record and which club was trying to reach the playoffs for a 17th straight season.
Clarity arrived courtesy of a three-goal flurry in the third period. Victory arrived in overtime.
Sidney Crosby capped a frantic rally with a blast from the right circle that beat Blue Jackets backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson 2:45 into the extra period as the Penguins scrambled to a 5-4 win.
“We’ll take those two points but we know it wasn’t the most ideal game for us,” said Penguins forward Jason Zucker, who had two goals to boost his season total to 21.
It was the ideal finish.
Pittsburgh beat the Blue Jackets for the 13th straight time at PPG Paints Arena thanks to a three-goal outburst early in the third that drew the Penguins even, setting the stage for the 20th overtime goal of Crosby’s career that sent Pittsburgh to its fifth win in its last six games.
“We knew (the start) wasn’t good enough,” Zucker said. “We’re a veteran group. We know what we need to be doing. We got after it a little bit in the second and definitely in the third.”
Zucker, Jake Guentzel and Danton Heinen scored in a 3:38 span early in the third period make it 4-4. Crosby’s 28th goal of the season kept Pittsburgh unbeaten against Columbus at home since November 2015.
Evgeni Malkin had three assists for the Penguins. Crosby and Rickard Rakell added two assists as Pittsburgh stayed three points clear of Florida for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Casey DeSmith stopped all 15 shots he faced after replacing an ineffective Tristan Jarry early in the second period.
“I knew if I kept it within reach we had the firepower to put some pucks in the net and thankfully we did it,” DeSmith said. “It was a really spirited win. I think it was something that was good for this team.”
Patrik Laine, Emil Bemstrom, Liam Foudy and Lane Pederson all scored for Columbus but it wasn’t enough. Hutchinson — who replaced an ill Elvis Merzlikins at the start of the second period — wore down under constant pressure from Pittsburgh. Hutchinson made 35 saves but let the four-goal advantage he inherited slip away.
“They’re a dangerous team and you give them some energy in this building, they’re going to come,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get it done.”
The Blue Jackets outskated and outplayed the Penguins over the first 25 minutes while sprinting to a massive lead.
Inattentive backchecking and shaky play by Jarry — who sat out a loss to Florida on Saturday due to an illness — led to a smattering of boos and tepid calls for the firing of general manager Ron Hextall after Foudy’s wrist shot beat Jarry 2:37 into the second period to put Columbus up 4-0.
Jarry was replaced by DeSmith, though the switch did little to bring the Penguins to life.
In the third, the Penguins finally asserted themselves.
Guentzel’s 25th goal of the season 21 seconds into the final period gave the Penguins a jolt. Zucker’s second of the game less than three minutes later brought Pittsburgh within one and when Heinen finished off an end-to-end rush by tapping in a feed from Rakell, the Penguins tied it.
“Something we have to learn as a group, to just play a full game especially when you’re playing against a team going for a deep playoff run,” Foudy said. “All the points matter for them.”
Blue Jackets: Welcome St. Louis to Columbus on Saturday.
Penguins: Host the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Islanders have won each of the first three meetings between the Metropolitan Division rivals this season.
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