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Canucks top Pens, 4-2

Jason Mackey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Hockey

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- In a matchup of teams in serious need of offense, Brock Boeser and the Vancouver Canucks got the best of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

The result was a 4-2 loss for the Penguins that sent them home from a five-game road trip with a measly three points.

Boeser had a hat trick, including the game-winning goal in the third period. All of his goals came during five-on-five play, which matches the Penguins' total in that situation over the previous five games combined.

Two nights ago in Calgary, the Penguins suffered an overtime loss, but there wasn't too much dejection because they were happy with the process.

Play like that enough, coach Mike Sullivan reasoned, and the Penguins would be perfectly fine.

There wasn't a huge deviation from that Saturday, although Sullivan did tinker with his forward lines to try and find some semblance of offense.

He used Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel together for the first time with any regularity when they opened the second period on a line with Jake Guentzel. Sullivan removed Tom Kuhnhackl from Evgeni Malkin's left wing and put Carl Hagelin there.

The Penguins did get a five-on-five goal -- but not from those two lines. The Penguins' fourth line got involved early in the third period, as Greg McKegg redirected a Ryan Reaves point shot to force a 2-2 tie at 4:49.

That lead was short-lived, however, as Boeser completed his hat trick at 5:56. Boeser got a good look from the slot and beat Matt Murray's glove side. Bo Horvat picked up the Canucks' fourth goal at 16:29 of the third.

The Penguins entered the game with a total of six five-on-five goals over the previous seven games. Their only other source of offense in this one was the power play, which scored for the ninth time in 11 road games.

Besides the beating the Penguins took from Boeser, they also took one from the Canucks as a whole.

A Vancouver player -- either Sven Baertschi or Erik Gudbranson -- tripped Kessel in the slot late in the second period. Kessel went down hard and grabbed his head. He stayed on the bench for a bit, in obvious discomfort, before retiring to the dressing room. Kessel did return for the start of the third period.

Frank Corrado left the game for a spell when he was tossed into the boards. Kris Letang went face-first into the wall while pursuing Jake Virtanen -- but stayed in. Ditto for Olli Maatta when he absorbed a hard hit and Brian Dumoulin after blocking a shot.

Boeser pushed the Canucks in front, 2-1, with a goal that tugged the Penguins out of position at 7:14 of the second period.

Horvat started the sequence with a pass from the right corner. Baertschi kept the puck alive with his skate and sent a pass over to Boeser, who found open space to Murray's right.

The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Penguins against the Canucks. Pittsburgh had previously won eight of 10 and five in a row at Rogers Arena.

One of the constants under Sullivan has been the ability for the Penguins to climb back into games after two periods. They did it 13 times the previous two seasons and appeared on their way to another -- until Boeser completed his hat trick. This season, with an inconsistent offense, the Penguins are 0-5-1 when trailing after two.

The four-goal output was a rarity for a Vancouver team that began the game as one of the worst offensive teams in the league.

The Penguins grabbed a 1-0 lead on their first power-play chance of the game.

This one belonged to Guentzel, although a pretty passing sequence made it happen. Crosby swept a puck backward, through his legs to Kessel in the left circle. Kessel blew a tire but was able to get the puck to Guentzel for the near-side finish at 2:53.

That kind of puck movement has been one of the reasons why the Penguins have been able to stay afloat despite their five-on-five struggles.

Their power play started the game at 29.1 percent, second-best in the NHL. They also had the best road conversion percentage (40.0)

"I think what's allowed us to get some of the results that we've gotten to this point is our power play has been very good," Sullivan said after Saturday's morning skate. "That's certainly been one constant, consistent positive for our team in this early part of the season."

The lead didn't last long, however, as Boeser tied it for the Canucks at 7:07 of the opening period.

Maatta's clearing attempt hit a linesman's skate. Horvat had a smart keep-in, and Boeser pulled the puck around Murray's leg pad.

That represented the first goal Murray has ever allowed against the Canucks. He pitched a pair of shutouts against them last season, stopping a total of 56 shots.

(c)2017 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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