Penguins keep streaking, beat Wild to end 2018
ST. PAUL, Minn. — An avid poker player, Phil Kessel knows drawing three of a kind three hands in a row can bring a potential windfall of chips.
The hockey equivalent has brought the Pittsburgh Penguins a windfall of wins.
Kessel recorded three points for the third consecutive game, leading the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night.
The Penguins closed out 2018 on a season-high six-game winning streak.
It’s the first time Kessel has turned in three straight three-point games in his career and the second time an NHL player has done so this season. Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele was the first.
Kessel’s goal and two assists were more than enough offense to back Casey DeSmith, who turned in an outstanding performance to improve to 3-1 in his last four starts.
The Wild closed to within a goal with about four minutes left when Zach Parise came off the right half-wall with the puck and slipped a shot inside the far post to make it 3-2, but the Penguins held on through the frantic final moments.
After Matt Murray started and won the team’s three previous games, stopping 96 of 99 shots along the way, coach Mike Sullivan went with DeSmith in net Monday night.
Murray could use the rest, Sullivan said before the game, and DeSmith’s last start was a 40-save showing in a 2-1 win over the Wild on Dec. 20 at home.
“We’re trying to keep them both involved,” Sullivan said.
The Penguins, however, put DeSmith in a disadvantageous position early in the game by taking a penalty less than four minutes in.
Late in the Minnesota power play that followed, Mikko Koivu entered the zone as the trailer, took a pass from Nino Niederreiter and beat DeSmith with a shot under the right arm to make it 1-0.
Shortly after falling behind, the Penguins began to mount their offensive attack. A Kessel shot from the slot just missed the right post. A Marcus Pettersson shot got through goalie Devan Dubnyk but hit his back skate before trickling over the goal line.
Finally, the Wild took a penalty, and the Penguins made them pay.
Kessel gathered a puck on the right wing, faked a shot and threaded a pass through defenseman Ryan Suter’s legs in the slot to Sidney Crosby at the far post for a tap-in.
It was the fifth straight successful power play for the Penguins, who went 4 for 4 on Saturday night in St. Louis.
In the final minute of the period, Kessel gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
Zach Aston-Reese stole a puck from defenseman Jared Spurgeon on the forecheck, leading to a bad-angle shot from Kessel in the right-wing corner that hit Suter’s stick and hopped past Dubnyk.
The Wild regrouped at intermission and outshot the Penguins, 13-7, in the second period. DeSmith turned them away each time. Most notably, he used his left pad to stop an Eric Staal one-time slam from the top of the crease about nine minutes in.
The Penguins made it 3-1 less than a minute later.
Coming into the offensive zone three on three, Kessel found Riley Sheahan on the right wing for a shot that appeared to tip off Marcus Foligno’s stick and nestle in the top corner of the net over Dubnyk’s right shoulder.
Late in the period, DeSmith stopped Jonas Brodin with the left pad as he barged alone down the slot and turned back Koivu on a two-on-one.
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.