The Penguins were eager to bring Jason Zucker back to their roster.
And sure enough, the forward who had missed 37 of the previous 38 games with a core muscle injury contributed almost immediately in their 4-3 overtime road win over the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., Thursday.
But all ambitions of a triumphant comeback were dashed roughly halfway through the contest.
At 9:49 of the second period, just as his teammates scored, Zucker was injured in a horrific crash into the boards. Chasing a puck to the right wall in his own end, Zucker was pushed into the boards by Wild forward Kevin Fiala and nearly swerved full against the wall.
Athletic trainer Chris Stewart dealt with Zucker, who appeared to be holding his inner right thigh. Eventually, Zucker got his skates back but put little weight on his right leg and needed help from forward Sidney Crosby and defenseman Mike Matheson as well as team staff members to get off the ice. and retire to the locker room.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan did not provide an update on Zucker’s status after the game.
A goal 3:57 into overtime by Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin — his 17th of the season — secured the win.
This latest setback from Zucker, hampered by injury since December, had a palpable effect on his teammates.
“He’s a big part of this team,” defenseman John Marino told media in St. Paul. “Especially off the ice. In the locker room, just finding him, I think, was a spark for us. You could also see it in the first two periods when he played with us. It was painful to watch.
Zucker, who played in his first game in Minnesota since the Wild traded him to the Penguins in February 2020, helped the Penguins score on the first shot of the contest just 1:06 into regulation.
Gaining the offensive zone on the right wing, Zucker made a pass from the half wall to the right point for Marino, who pumped a wrist towards the cage. Establishing a position on the edge of the right circle near the crease, Penguins forward Rickard Rakell deflected the puck through goaltender Cam Talbot’s five hole for his 18th goal of the season (and second since he joined the Penguins by trade on March 21). Marino and Zucker got assists.
A power play goal at 10:51 of the first period tied the game at 1-1. From the Penguins’ right circle, Fiala flicked a wrist to the net that was denied by goaltender blocker Casey DeSmith. As a mass of humanity crashed into the slot, the rebound jumped to the right circle where Wild defender Matt Dumba headed it to the net with his right skate.
After a desperate DeSmith once again kept the puck, Dumba followed up the rebound by firing a forehand from the near post. Despite a stick check from defenseman Kris Letang, Dumba managed to make contact on a second shot attempt and pushed the puck slightly over the goal line briefly before Letang rushed in to sweep the puck out of the cage. The officials initially decided on no goals, but a brief review resulted in Dumba’s seventh goal. There were no assists.
Penguins forward Jake Guentzel, who grew up in Woodbury, Minn., restored his team’s lead with a power play score 1:54 into the second period.
After Crosby beat Wild forward Tyson Jost in a tie in Minnesota’s left circle, Letang set the puck in the high slot, sparking a passing streak to forward Bryan Rust (left point) , then to Crosby (left corner), then to the Penguins forward. Evgeni Malkin (right corner) and finally Letang (right face-off spot), who threw a one-timer at the net. Talbot made a save with his left leg but allowed a rebound to slide to the slot where Guentzel cleared it with a forehand for his 32nd goal. Letang and Malkin called for help.
“Just a great face-off game,” Guentzel said. “I just got my stick on the ice. He went right on my stick. Definitely one I’ll take.
The Penguins took a 3-1 lead on the streak where Zucker got hurt. Claiming the puck at his own left spot, Crosby passed Dumba and generated a two-on-one run with Rakell against Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin. As Brodin tried unsuccessfully to block the passing lane, Crosby managed to slide the bottom puck into the Wild’s left circle to the other side of the crease where Rakell tapped the puck. Crosby got the only assist.
After a potential goal by Wild forward Jordan Greenway at 17:31 of the second was wiped out by a challenge from a Penguins coach – a video review showed the streak to be offside – the Wild shot within a goal at 17:48 thanks to former Penguins forward Frederick Gaudreau scoring his 10th goal.
After a turnover in the defensive zone from Marino, Gaudreau picked up the puck in the right spot and tapped it into the right half wall for Fiala. As Gaudreau maneuvered towards the slot, Fiala threw it back at him and Gaudreau landed a knock on DeSmith’s glove. Fiala and teammate Jordan Boldy got assists.
Things were up again just 1:02 into the third period. Controlling the puck behind the Penguins net, Wild forward Ryan Hartman made a “pass” to himself behind the cage in order to pass a check Malkin and from the right of the net he sent a pass in the enclave. From there, teammate Kirill Kaprizov hit a one-timer past DeSmith’s left skate for his 38th goal. The assists went to Hartman and defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
For the remainder of the third period, the teams largely held service.
“I think we showed really good resilience,” DeSmith said. “Obviously a draw in the third, I think we did a great job of bouncing back not letting the momentum slip away. I thought we won it in extra time which was great to see The star players stepped up for us.
It was evident in overtime when the Penguins outscored the Wild 7-2, including Malkin’s last three shots of the game.
Pushing play into the offensive zone on the right wing boards, Marino shielded Hartman’s puck then slipped a pass to the right spot for Rust, who landed a forehand in front of the cage for Malkin. Initially rushing behind the cage, Malkin backed up to the right of the net and blocked two forehands which Talbot’s left skate denied.
Malkin’s third attempt earned the entry as Wild defender Dmitry Kulikov made an exhausted and futile attempt at a poke check. Rust and Marino have registered assists.
“It was an all-out, top-down effort,” Sullivan said. “It was a great hockey game for both sides. It’s a really good team. Our team played very hard tonight. We competed hard. … I just really liked our resilience throughout the game. It was a game that had a lot of swings in momentum, it seemed. Sometimes you can get caught up in these. I think we did a good job of just sticking with it and keeping the game simple to try and get it back when we lost it.
“It was a great hockey game. It had a playoff feel in many ways. It was physical. There were big plays made on both sides. I think both goalkeepers played well and made some big saves. It was just a big hockey game.
DeSmith made 28 saves on 31 shots as his record improved to 7-4-4 with an invigorating but somewhat pyrrhic win considering Zucker’s latest illness.
“It was awful,” DeSmith said. “Obviously I hate to see that. We see him working hard every day, rehabilitating himself and trying to get back as fast as he can. Just having that happen in the first game was pretty heartbreaking.
• On Thursday afternoon, Zucker was activated from long-term injury reserve. In a corresponding trade, Penguins forward Brock McGinn was placed on the long-term injured list with a suspected right hand or arm injury that sidelined him in all nine games. previous ones.
• It was the first game decided in overtime between the Penguins and the Wild. Previously, the Penguins had twice lost to the Wild in shootouts.
• Malkin has scored three of the Penguins’ last four game-winning goals.
• After struggling with a career-worst six-game pointless streak, Malkin has cobbled together a six-game scoring streak.
• Letang recorded his 500th career assist on Guentzel’s goal.
• The Penguins are now 5 for 5 on coaching challenges this season.
• Goalscoring streaks don’t continue while a player is out, but Zucker has scored in the last three games he has played since 19 December.
• The Penguins have removed forwards Anthony Angello, Radim Zohorna and defenseman Marcus Pettersson.
• The Wild did not emerge unscathed from this match. Forward Matt Boldy and defenseman Jon Merrill each left the game in the second period due to undisclosed injuries.
• The Wild remain one of three active NHL franchises the Penguins have never ruled out. The others are the Seattle Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights, which are each expansion franchises that have joined the NHL in the past four seasons.
• Kaprizov tied the Wild’s single-season record with 83 points (37 goals, 45 assists) in just 65 games. The mark was initially set by former Wild forward Marian Gaborik who had 83 points (42 goals, 41 assists) in 77 games during the 2007-08 campaign.
• Dumba became the first Wild defenseman to score a power play goal this season.
•The Wild eliminated former Penguins Nick Bjugstad and Alex Goligoski as well as defenseman Jordie Benn.