PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan recently said the Penguins are a better team when Phil Kessel scores, and they were on Thursday.
Kessel scored twice for the fourth time this season to help Pittsburgh (29-19-8) defeat the Detroit Red Wings 6-3 at Consol Energy Center.
After previously playing on a line with center Matt Cullen and left wing Carl Hagelin, Kessel replaced forward Patric Hornqvist on Pittsburgh's top line alongside Sidney Crosby and left wing Chris Kunitz. He has scored three goals in his past three games.
"I've said it a number of times, he shoots the puck differently than most guys," Sullivan said. "The way the puck comes off his stick. He has a really good release. He's very accurate with how he shoots and where he wants to put it. Obviously, he has some zip. There's some velocity on it that most guys don't have the ability to do."
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy opened the scoring 9:56 into the first period when he took a wrist shot, which deflected off the shaft of Red Wings forward Darren Helm's stick and past Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek for his third goal this season and his first since Nov. 25 against the St. Louis Blues.
The Penguins' 1-0 lead lasted 3:44 as Tomas Jurco scored his fourth goal this season with 6:20 left. After Andreas Athanaisou carried the puck into the offensive zone, he shuffled a pass to Gustav Nyquist near the far wall, where he backhanded a pass through Cullen and defenseman Brian Dumoulin to Jurco gliding into the slot.
Jurco sent a snap shot between Hornqvist and Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley, and through Marc-Andre Fleury, to tie the game 1-1.
Cullen re-established the Penguins' one-goal lead after corralling a rebound off of a tipped shot from Hornqvist. Cullen shot through Mrazek's five-hole, where the puck deflected off the inside of his right leg and over the goal line to put Pittsburgh up 2-1 with 1:16 left. It was Cullen's seventh goal this season.
Video: DET@PIT: Kessel scores from doorstep for second goal
After Red Wings rookie forward Dylan Larkin scored his 19th goal this season to tie the game at 2-2, 2:19 into the second period, Kessel answered 24 seconds later. Crosby battled Pavel Datsyuk into the Detroit (29-20-9) zone shortly after the ensuing faceoff and fed a pass through Henrik Zetterberg to Kessel, who sent a wrist shot under Mrazek's blocker to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead.
"That was a big one for them, for sure," Mrazek said. "When we tied the game, we keep it 2-2 for a little longer, it'd be a very different game. But I felt like the fourth goal was maybe the breaking point there."
Larkin said Kessel's goal stung, but wasn't necessarily where the game was lost.
"It was a tough one," Larkin said. "It was a good shot. I don't know if it was a backbreaker for me. We were only down by one there and there's still a lot of game left. We did a good job in the third. We kept playing and it was just a few bad bounces."
Following Kessel's first goal, the Red Wings nearly tied the game 3-3 when Justin Abdelkader and Datsyuk shot two seconds apart before Abdelkader charged toward Fleury, pushing him deep into the net with 5:00 left in the second. Detroit celebrated, but the play was waved off and reviewed before it was ruled that the puck never crossed the goal line.
Following Scott Wilson's first NHL goal, which doubled Pittsburgh's lead to 4-2 with 3:17 left in the second, Kessel scored again to push the lead to 5-2 on his 18th goal this season 6:26 into the third period.
Kessel said he was told he would play next to Crosby just before the game. He played alongside Crosby to start the season before they were split between the top two lines. Kessel moved to the second line to the right of center Evgeni Malkin, who missed a seventh consecutive game with a lower-body injury Thursday.
"Obviously, [Crosby is] going really good," Kessel said. "He's carrying our team right now and I just help out … You just do what you're told. You play with who you play with. You just do whatever you can to help the team win."
Mrazek, who has allowed 10 goals in his past two starts, was pulled after making 27 saves. Jimmy Howard made six saves in relief.
Video: DET@PIT: Crosby scores goal from center ice
Detroit cut the lead to 5-3 on Zetterberg's 12th goal this season with 8:47 left.
Crosby added an empty-net goal with 47.1 seconds left to extend the lead to 6-3.
The Red Wings have given up 18 goals in their past four games and coach Jeff Blashill criticized Detroit's defensive play.
"Defensively, I didn't think, as a five-man unit, we were even close," Blashill said. "We cannot play that way and have long-term success. I thought we were way too loose. We gave up way too many chances. Certainly credit to them, they played really well, but I focus on our team and I thought it was our weakest five-man unit defensively that we've had in a while."
Video: Penguins score six goals in win over Red Wings