PITTSBURGH, PA - The Winnipeg Jets had to be at their best to have a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champions. On a night when history could be made, like it was Thursday at PPG Paints Arena, even more so.
It took a while to get going, but once the engines fired and purred at full song, the Jets, according to their head coach and everyone else who witnessed it live and on TV, "played one hell of a hockey game."
Backed by the 44 saves of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby's winning goal with only 21.1 seconds left in overtime, the Penguins took a 4-3 decision in a thrilling, back-and-forth, physical affair in downtown Pittsburgh.
"The compete was so high, the checks got finished, the battle on pucks was real good," said Maurice. "There were lots of chances to score, and good goaltending kept (us) from scoring. We'll think about the chances in overtime, for sure, but real good battle. It was a really hard-fought game.
"It's that time of year."
Dustin Byfuglien gave the Jets a 3-2 lead with 11:36 to play, and for a while it looked like that would be enough, but Phil Kessel tied things up for the Pens with a power-play goal at 13:55.
Video: WPG@PIT: Byfuglien puts Jets on top with wraparound
The Jets had all kinds of chances in overtime, including three 2-on-1's and a breakaway chance by Nikolaj Ehlers, but Fleury stood tall.
"A bit of disappointment," said Byfuglien, whose goal - a cheeky wraparound - gave him eight on the year. "We didn't get the two points we wanted. I think after the first period we picked the game up a little bit and had a little bit more control. They're a good team over there and it's never going to be an easy night playing those guys. … We got a point out of it. We can go back and look at the good things and the bad things and learn from it."
Crosby recorded his 1,000th career point with an assist on Chris Kunitz's first-period goal. He is the 86th player in NHL history to accomplish this feat, and he is the 12th to do it, recording the milestone in just 757 career games.
Video: POSTGAME | Dustin Byfuglien
Patrik Laine and Paul Postma scored the others for Winnipeg, while Connor Hellebuyck - was excellent in this back-and-forth affair - stopped 35.
Laine got Winnipeg on the board, cutting the deficit to one with his 27th of the year at 17:09 of the second, after some great work by Mathieu Perreault and Mark Scheifele gave him a free look at the side of the net. He, of course, made no mistake after a diving Perreault set him up at the far side, plunging a shot past Fleury to put him back into a tie with Auston Matthews for the rookie lead in goals.
Video: WPG@PIT: Laine buries Perreault's nice feed
Scheifele came close to tying it less than a minute later off a splendid solo effort, but after beating the defenceman with a tricky deke through the middle, Fleury came up with an incredible save as he kicked out the left pad a la Bill Ranford after losing an edge on the shuffle across.
But the Jets, fighting for their lives, were undeterred. Postma knotted the game at two at 4:23 of the third with a slapper through traffic from the right point, beating Fleury clean past the glove for his first of the year.
Video: WPG@PIT: Postma launches a one-timer past Fleury
The Jets were all over the Penguins, outshooting them 16-8 in the third before an ill-timed infraction gave the home side one last gasp.
"I'm proud of every guy, all of us who battled out there," Laine said. "I think we played well and maybe deserved to win, but we had our chances and couldn't score, but at least it was a point for us."
Evgeni Malkin drew first blood for the Penguins only 59 seconds into the game, after a series of miscues turned a routine defensive-zone breakout into a game of hot potato. Ben Chiarot tried to clear the puck up the middle after Hellebuyck mishandled a Pittsburgh dump, but he put it right on the stick of the former 50-goal scorer, who fired it home from the top of the circles.
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
The Pens opened up a two-goal lead at 6:28 as Crosby, who made a great play to steal the puck from Blake Wheeler, fed Kunitz for the one-timer, beating Hellebuyck five-hole for his ninth of the year and 'Sid the Kid's' 1,000th career point.
Only a few Penguins came onto the ice to congratulate their captain, but the moment was properly adorned at the next TV timeout, when a tribute video played on the scoreboard. Both benches rose to their feet and tapped their sticks, and the more than 18,000 on hand unleashed a deafening roar.
Shots on goal favoured the home side 16-10 after one, but it was all Winnipeg after that.
The Jets will continue their four-game road trip on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com