PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t have their captain or their coach. They did have Tristan Jarry and a sorta healthy Kris Letang.
For a game at least, it was enough.
Jarry stopped 36 shots and Letang returned from the COVID-19 protocol by stuffing a wraparound by Philadelphia’s Carter Hart 1:57 into overtime to lift the Penguins past the Flyers 3-2 on Thursday night.
Playing for the first time since Oct. 19 following a bout with COVID-19, Letang’ scored his first goal of the season and helped the Penguins snap a three-game losing streak. Letang followed the puck behind the Philadelphia net then attempted to jam a backhand by Hart. The goaltender appeared to have it smothered as the whistle blew. Letang knew better.
“In the scrum, I told the referee right away ‘You should check it,’” the veteran defenseman said.
A lengthy video review followed, ending with a roar from the crowd and a sense of relief for the Penguins following a tumultuous stretch that’s seen a steady trickle of players test positive for COVID-19.
Star center Sidney Crosby tested positive on Wednesday. Head coach Mike Sullivan followed just hours before the opening face-off against the Flyers. Assistant coach Todd Reirden filled in and marveled at the group’s resilience without two of the franchise’s pillars.
″(We showed) despite what we’re going through, we’re here to gather two points and be done with our losing streak,” Reirden said.
Brock McGinn scored 16 seconds into the game for the Penguins, and Jake Guentzel added his second of the season. Letang played 28:55, not bad for someone who didn’t skate for 10 days while in the protocol. He was cleared to return on Monday and spent most of the last four days on the ice trying to get his legs back.
While he acknowledged he’s still not quite 100%, he was close enough to help the Penguins pick up their first win since Oct. 23.
“It’s a nice one,” Letang said. “We can’t control what’s happening. It’s not like guys are getting injured, they’re testing positive. … It’s fun to see some young guys step up and have some big nights and our goaltender was outstanding.”
Travis Konecny scored his fourth goal of the season for Philadelphia, and Scott Laughton’s goal with 2:52 left in regulation forced overtime, but Jarry’s stellar play helped the Penguins win the first of their four regular-season meetings with their cross-state rivals.
“Their goalie had some big saves he had to make,” Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “That’s part of today’s game. You need great goaltending. We’re getting some. They got some.”
Pittsburgh’s win came at the end of a four-day break that featured a steady stream of high-profile players test positive for COVID-19. Eight Penguins have entered the protocol since training camp opened in September, including four since Monday in Crosby and defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson and Chad Ruhwedel.
The Flyers did their best to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s patched-together blue line early, throwing 17 shots at Jarry in the first period alone. None of them made it through as Jarry’s strong start continued following a forgettable flameout in the first round of the playoffs last April.
The Penguins needed just one shot to get to Hart. Mike Matheson threw a shot in from the point shortly after the Penguins won the opening faceoff and McGinn skated alone in front to redirect by Hart for his third goal of the season.
The Flyers finally broke through on Konecny’s power-play goal 7:37 into the second period, when he took a pass from Claude Giroux at the left post, spun around and roofed it over Jarry’s right shoulder.
The momentum didn’t last. Penguins went back in front just over four minutes later when Guentzel initially fanned on a shot from the left circle then quickly regrouped to whistle one by Hart’s extended left pad for his first goal in three weeks.
Pittsburgh nearly made it hold up before a loose puck found its way from behind the Penguins’ net to Laughton’s stick. Jarry had no chance on the one-timer as Philadelphia forced the extra period.
“I think it’s a good point anytime you can pick it up down a goal with a couple (of) minutes left,” Laughton said. “You always want to get the extra one.”
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