Following the Penguins' tough loss to the Flyers on Thursday - where Pittsburgh's early 3-0 lead dissolved into a 4-3 setback - all the players could talk about after practice on Friday was how much they were looking forward to getting another crack at them today.
And the Penguins bounced back with a huge 4-3 victory this afternoon at PPG Paints Arena to close out their three-game series against their cross-state rival the right way - earning wins in two of the three contests.
"Everybody was disappointed with the result the other night, but I was happy for the players because I thought their response was really strong," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "I liked our energy. I liked our effort. Our compete level was high. And we beat a pretty good hockey team. We would have liked to take all three, but the fact we won two of three is positive from our standpoint."
Sullivan said he liked his team's resilience throughout the game, as they battled back from numerous deficits to get the job done in regulation, which was critical. Entering the game, the Penguins were in fifth place in the East Division Standings - two points behind Philadelphia. To keep them from getting any at all was important.
"I think what you'll find is that the intensity in the games is starting to heighten just by nature of the standings being so close, and there's less games to establish yourself in a in a playoff position," Sullivan said. "So the importance of each game gets heightened by nature of the runway getting shorter."
There was a lot more to like about the Penguins game. Here's some of what stood out:
- It truly was a great team effort, with contributions from throughout the lineup. But as Brandon Tanev said, it started with the core. The Penguins' best players were just that today.
"I think our leadership group did a great job in getting us back on track and getting us back to the game that we know we can play," Tanev said. "I think tonight was an example of that."
Evgeni Malkin finished with a goal and an assist and was involved in three of Pittsburgh's four tallies en route to being named the game's No. 1 star.
"I thought he was he was a difference-maker in the game tonight," Sullivan said. "He had an impact on the game, on both sides of the puck. That's what we've grown accustomed to expect from him, because he's such a generational talent. I hope that this is something that he can build on."
Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby collected two helpers, and the two-headed monster was most instrumental on the power play - which was firing on all cylinders this afternoon. They ended up going 2-for-3 in the contest, with the first unit netting both goals off pretty passes.
The captain made a beautiful saucer pass to Malkin on the first one, who deked out Brian Elliott before galloping around the net and burying a backhand wraparound before the Flyers goalie could push off to the other side.
Malkin then started a great sequence on the second goal, when he threaded a cross-ice pass over to Crosby. He pushed it back over to Guentzel, who found Bryan Rust at the side of the net for the re-direct.
"When we're moving and just kind of playing off our instincts - skating, supporting each other - that's when we're at our best," Rust said. "And I think we did that tonight."
- The Penguins spent a lot of time on special teams, as the bad blood boiled over on a few occasions. The teams went 4-on-4 twice and the Penguins were shorthanded four times. They did give up one goal, but overall, performed pretty well on the penalty kill.
It helped that they got Brian Dumoulin back after he missed the last 15 games with a lower-body injury. The defenseman ended up logging a team-high 5:45 shorthanded minutes.
"It was a lot of special teams, and in these games, it's going to happen," Dumoulin said. "It was good to see us win that battle. Our power play gave us a lot of momentum at the beginning of the game, and we did a great job on the PK also. That was kind of the key, and it was good to see us come out with that win."
- As the game went on, members of the Penguins' bottom-six stepped up at key moments. Zach Aston-Reese got the tying goal late in the second, while Jared McCann got the winning goal about midway through the third - with Tanev earning the primary assist on both.
"There were times when we were up and down, but I think we came out there and had a strong third period and got the job done," Tanev said.
McCann in particular is heating up, as he now has goals in two straight and points in four of his last five.
"We've always known he has the ability to finish," Sullivan said. "It's more about just playing the game a certain way that gives him the opportunities to get the looks. … I think he's doing the little things and getting himself into the right areas of the rink, and as a result, I think he's starting to score goals. And like every player, when the puck starts to go in the net for you, it certainly helps your confidence. I think that's given Jared a big boost as well."