The little miniseries that have helped define the NHL’s COVID-19-era schedule will be on full display Thursday when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the New Jersey Devils.
This is not just a two-game, same-city set, but because of earlier schedule disruptions, it is three games in a row between the two clubs.
And it’s not just any old second game in a miniseries. It’s a rematch ahead of a rematch following a wild and wacky game Tuesday in which Pittsburgh built a six-goal lead through two periods, then collapsed defensively and held on for a 7-6 win.
If that is a lot to take in, consider that even Penguins coach Mike Sullivan struggles to put that game into any sort of context.
“I’ve never been through an experience like that. It’s not an easy one to react to,” Sullivan said of a win that almost didn’t seem like a win, with two more games coming against the same team.
“My hope is that it’s an outlier.”
One thing is clear to Sullivan.
“We’ve got to be a whole lot better in a lot of areas to close out games and not put ourselves in those types of positions,” he said.
Sullivan, in a break from the norm, opened his team’s practice Wednesday with a lengthy talk to his players.
Pittsburgh (29-14-3, 61 points), in strong contention for the East Division title, came away with two important points and an important lesson to grasp before Thursday’s game.
“It’s something we’ve got to learn from, obviously,” Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “We have these guys again.
“Some of it was some sloppy play by us. That’s got to get cleaned up going into the next game.”
New Jersey (14-25-6, 34 points) has lost seven straight games and is not only out of the playoff chase but also is in danger of “overtaking” Buffalo for last place in the East.
That six-goal third period Tuesday that left Pittsburgh reeling could give the Devils the momentum at this point in the three-game set.
However, the Devils aren’t going into Thursday’s game with any sort of overconfidence. They have an explanation for their big comeback Tuesday.
“It’s easier to play when you’re losing 6-0, so we chipped away,” New Jersey’s Jack Hughes said. “It’s embarrassing to be losing 6-0 in the NHL. … It’s impossible to win a game when you give up seven goals.”
That last thought is what Devils coach Lindy Ruff is concentrating on.
“To start off, we need better goaltending,” Ruff said. “We flat-out need better goaltending. … At the end of the day, I need my guys between the pipes to be the difference for us.”
It’s not clear who that will be Thursday.
Scott Wedgewood started in goal Tuesday for the Devils after Mackenzie Blackwood was a relatively late scratch. Blackwood took a hit in a game Sunday. He participated in the morning skate Tuesday, but it was determined he should sit out.
There is no word on Blackwood’s status for Thursday.
Wedgewood gave up four goals in the first period Tuesday before being pulled for Aaron Dell, who gave up two more in the second period and one to Sidney Crosby in the third that at the time seemed like an insurance goal but ended up being the difference.
New Jersey played Tuesday without defenseman P.K. Subban, who went on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list that afternoon. His status for Thursday remains unclear.
–Field Level Media
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