PITTSBURGH (AP) — Tristan Jarry stopped 27 shots and the Pittsburgh Penguins kept pace in the race for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference with a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.
The Penguins bounced back from a miserable performance in a loss to New Jersey on Tuesday by putting together three complete periods, a rarity for most of the last three months.
Kris Letang beat Fleury, a good friend who won three Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh before leaving in the 2017 expansion draft, over the glove in the first period for his 11th goal of the season. Rickard Rakell, Jason Zucker and Jeff Carter also scored for the Penguins, who are trying to extend their playoff streak to 17 straight years.
Fleury is already assured of a 17th consecutive trip to the postseason after the Wild wrapped up a spot earlier this week. Minnesota’s bid to chase down first-place Colorado in the Central Division took a hit when the Wild struggled to generate much in traffic in front of Jarry until they fell too far behind. Fleury stopped 27 shots while falling to 4-4 all-time against the team for which he played from 2003-17.
Marcus Johansson scored on the two-man advantage midway through the third period to spoil Jarry’s bid for a shutout, but couldn’t stop Minnesota from losing in regulation for just the third time in its last 24 games.
Jarry’s season has mirrored that of the Penguins. When he has been good, Pittsburgh has been good. When he’s not, the Penguins often look lost. The problem hasn’t been ability but health and consistency. Jarry entered Thursday just 7-9-3 in his last 22 appearances with a save percentage (.892) well below his career average (.913) while dealing with a handful of injuries.
The two-time All-Star insists he’s healthy at the moment and Pittsburgh’s best chance to slip past either the Florida Panthers or New York Islanders (or both) for a wild card is to replicate what they did against the Wild. The Penguins controlled play early and kept the momentum going, something that’s been an issue for most of the last three months.
Fleury’s return to a city where he’s still beloved isn’t the same emotional reunion it was five years ago. He’s moved on. Minnesota is his third stop since leaving the Penguins yet he remains sharp nearly two decades into his career.
The Wild are heading to the postseason thanks to a second-half turnaround largely sparked by the play of part of Fleury and fellow goaltender Filip Gustavsson.
Fleury was crisp early as Pittsburgh pressed, with Letang breaking through 15:02 into the first when he rifled a wrist shot from the short side over Fleury’s glove. Rickard Rakell doubled the lead just past the game’s midway point with a one-timer from the left circle.
Pittsburgh’s beleaguered penalty kill turned away three Minnesota power plays and when Zucker fired a shot off the rush that beat Fleury, Pittsburgh was up three and still in the thick of the postseason chase.
Wild: Host St. Louis on Saturday.
Penguins: Visit Detroit on Saturday. The Red Wings blew out Pittsburgh 7-4 last week.
Will Graves, The Associated Press