COLUMBUS, Ohio – The big pads circled the puck and Steve Mason thought he had it corralled. Then it started tumbling away, wobbling inches over the goal line.
Pittsburgh scored twice in the final three minutes of regulation to tie it and Sidney Crosby’s shot barely crossed the line in the shootout to lift the Penguins to a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.
“It was kind of a fluky. The puck kept going,” Crosby said. “I don’t know if he lost it or he didn’t know where it was or whatever. I just tried a quick shot. I thought he had the save there. It just trickled in.”
Mason couldn’t believe the puck eluded him.
“It hit my stick and I didn’t get it settled until it was over the line,” he said. “It just trickled over and I was too late on it.”
Brent Johnson stopped 29 shots before the shootout, then stymied Antoine Vermette, Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius in the tiebreaker. The Penguins improved to 6-0-0 on the road, the franchise’s best start ever away from home.
Ruslan Fedotenko and Alex Goligoski scored late goals in a 39-second span to tie it. Chris Kunitz also had a short-handed goal and an assist. Crosby added two assists.
Kunitz said that even when it was 3-1 and time was running out that Crosby remained a positive influence.
“It shows a lot of character from our captain. He goes out and he’s never quitting on anything,” Kunitz said. “Sometimes a team goes packing, down by two with three minutes left. But he goes out, he’s on the bench, he’s saying, ‘Let’s get the next one.’ So we go out there and he finds himself the puck and he gets it to (Goligoski), he gets a great shot and puts it in the net to get us to overtime.”
Nash had two goals – one while on his knees – and Derek Dorsett his first of the season for the Blue Jackets, who lost their third in a row.
“We’re not closing games,” Nash said. “We got the lead in a lot of the games already and just can’t seem to close it out. They are the defending Stanley Cup champions. You can tell why they’re such a good team. We are a team that needs to learn how to play with the lead.”
Columbus led 3-1 before Fedotenko netted a rebound at the left circle off a wide shot from the right point by Martin Skoula with 2:56 left. With the Penguins suddenly buzzing, Goligoski took a feed from Crosby seconds later, teed it up in the high slot and beat Mason glove side to knot the score.
“It should have never got to the shootout,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We did everything well but get the game shut down.”
The Penguins were playing without centre Evgeni Malkin. Sidelined by a strained right shoulder, he missed his first game in three years.
With a large portion of the capacity crowd of 19,136 cheering for the Penguins, the Blue Jackets slowly built a two-goal lead.
Nash broke through late in the first on the power play. He collected the puck behind the cage and tried a wraparound, the puck sliding to the right wing where Derick Brassard’s wrister was blocked by Johnson. Nash had skated to the slot and was knocked down. While still on his knees, the rebound came to him and he jammed the puck in for his seventh of the season.
After Nash made it 2-0, Kunitz was knocked down on a breakaway but there was no call. Seconds later, he ended up with the puck at the left doorstep and lifted it high over Mason’s glove. Dorsett then returned the two-goal lead.
The Penguins woke up just in time.
“It felt like in the third we just kept generating chances,” Crosby said. “We all felt confident we could get ourselves back in it with the way we were playing, the momentum we had.”
NOTES: The Penguins wore their baby blue third jerseys for the first time on the road since the 2008 Winter Classic in Buffalo, a 2-1 shootout victory. … A video clip of Colorado’s Adam Foote getting levelled on a check – he forced a trade to leave Columbus at the trade deadline in 2008 – was met with loud cheers. … Goligoski has goals in three straight games, while Crosby stretched his points streak to six in a row.