DENVER – The Penguins stood up to Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and a Colorado Avalanche club that is the betting favorite to claim the Stanley Cup.
But in their 3-2 loss Saturday at Ball Arena, the Penguins were done in by a sharp Avalanche goalie and a pair of Penguins letdowns after they got tying goals.
Less than 48 hours after an intense, physical game against the Minnesota Wild, the Penguins had plenty of juice from the jump Saturday. The players getting the day off here in Denver on Friday had to have helped. The Penguins had the Avalanche on their heels for much of the first period, firing 17 shots on goal.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t capitalize on their many opportunities. The Penguins misfired on a few good looks, Evan Rodrigues got stuffed on a breakaway and Bryan Rust’s shot from the slot just nicked Darcy Kuemper’s skate and went wide.
Unable to seize an early lead, the Penguins let the Avalanche hang around. Midway through the second period, the home team scored the game’s first goal.
Tristan Jarry, who had already let a few big rebounds dribble out, couldn’t corral a long-range shot from Andre Burakovsky. The puck popped off of his catching glove and into the air. Mikko Rantanen swatted it past the sprawling goalie.
Sidney Crosby buried a rebound later in the period to tie up the score. Prior to that, Kuemper had stopped the first 28 shots that the Penguins flung at him.
The many Penguins fans in the building were still buzzing about Crosby’s goal when Nicolas Aube-Kubel bombed a slap shot past Jarry just 20 seconds later.
The Penguins came close to getting even again as the second period wound down, including a shot from Crosby at the buzzer. But no such luck. Despite getting eight shots from the slot in that period, per Sportlogiq, they trailed after two.
The Avalanche were without a few key players Saturday, including captain Gabriel Landeskog (knee surgery). But they buckled down and controlled play throughout the third period. Jarry robbed Alex Newhook on a breakaway and made a spectacular sliding blocker save on MacKinnon on a 2-on-1 rush to keep the Penguins in it.
Mike Matheson scored his 10th goal of the season with 4:53 left in regulation.
But once again, the Penguins gave the lead right back in short order. MacKinnon missed the net but the puck bounced off the end boards right to Devon Toews, who hit the open net for the winning goal 27 seconds after Matheson tied it.
After losing Jason Zucker again in Thursday’s win in Minnesota, coach Mike Sullivan shook up his lines Saturday. Jeff Carter was promoted to play with Evgeni Malkin. Teddy Blueger got bumped up into the middle of the third line. Anthony Angello was back in the Penguins lineup for the first time since Jan. 11.
The chances were there for them, but Kuemper was excellent, making 38 saves.
The Penguins will host this Avalanche team Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena, wrapping up this rare back-to-back set with a Western Conference opponent.
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