PITTSBURGH – Amid an up-and-down season in which losses have been almost as common as wins, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t consistently skated as the powerhouse that became reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
But they certainly did Thursday night in a 6-3 victory over the Wild in front of an announced 18,453 at PPG Paints Arena. They flexed more than enough skill to nix the Wild’s season-high six-game point streak and halt its momentum going into the All-Star break.
“We got killed,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We got outplayed in every facet of the game.”
In a vintage performance, the Penguins scored the game’s first six goals — four against Devan Dubnyk and two against Alex Stalock in relief. Captain Sidney Crosby set up three of them — securing yet another milestone in the process — while Evgeni Malkin scored twice and added an assist. Phil Kessel also had a three-point effort.
And rookie goaltender Casey DeSmith had 23 saves.
“They’re a very good team, and they showed it,” Zach Parise said. “They played fast. We didn’t, and that’s the result you’re going to get most nights.”
Pittsburgh was in control from the get-go, using smooth skating and crisp passing to work around the Wild. And on their sixth shot (the Wild had yet to register one), the Penguins finally capitalized after a failed clearing attempt by center Eric Staal on a rising one-timer from winger Dominik Simon just 3 minutes, 54 seconds into the first period.
With an assist on the play, Crosby notched his 1,080th career point — moving into second on the franchise’s all-time list, passing Jaromir Jagr.
A fortuitous bounce upped the Penguins’ lead to 2-0 later in the period. While on the power play, Malkin’s wraparound attempt caromed off defenseman Ryan Suter and then Dubnyk before rolling in at 9:09.
The Penguins didn’t slow down in the second period.
After defenseman Matt Dumba’s clearing shot along the boards was kept in the Wild’s zone, Malkin eventually found winger Carl Hagelin for a shot from the slot that eluded Dubnyk 9:28 into the period.
Only 1:27 later, Pittsburgh added another — this one off a four-on-two rush in which defenseman Brian Dumoulin polished off a slick passing sequence.
“It felt like we just didn’t have the puck very much,” Parise said.
That ended Dubnyk’s night.
It looked as if the Wild had finally solved DeSmith during a power play with 4:53 remaining in the second period. But Jonas Brodin’s goal was overturned after a Penguins challenge because of goaltender interference.
The Wild surrendered two more goals in the third, as Malkin scored his second on the power play on another deflection off Suter 1:42 into the period.
Just 50 seconds after Malkin’s goal, Simon used a blistering shot to tally his second of the game.
“When they turned it on, we had no answer for it,” Boudreau said.
Those insurance goals ended up being costly, as the Wild did eventually get in a bit of a groove.
Staal erased DeSmith’s shutout bid at 8:44 to reach the 20-goal plateau before winger Mikael Granlund converted on the power play at 10:50 and Brodin’s shot scooted through traffic and by DeSmith with 8:14 to go.
“It was too big a hill,” Staal said.