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COVID-battered Penguins wrap long homestand against Wild

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The Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Minnesota Wild, who meet Saturday at PPG Paints Arena, are both coming off feel-good overtime wins.

The Penguins downed their bitter in-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2 on Thursday on an overtime goal by defenseman Kris Letang to snap a three-game losing streak.

That he was the player who got the winner underscored what has been going on with the team.

Letang was playing in his return after missing four games because of a bout with COVID-19, and Pittsburgh was playing its first game since four players — captain and cornerstone center Sidney Crosby and half the team’s regular defensemen in Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson and Chad Ruhwedel — and coach Mike Sullivan tested positive for the virus.

“You have to just embrace the challenge, and you show up to the rink and you might have a bigger role that night,” said Letang, the Penguins’ top defenseman who played Thursday without his regular partner, Dumoulin.

“You have to live with it. That’s it.”

That also goes for Todd Reirden, the Penguins assistant and former Washington Capitals head coach who is serving as Pittsburgh interim coach in the absence of Sullivan, who is experiencing symptoms as he quarantines.

“Coach Sullivan has done a great job of putting me in situations and delegating responsibility to me so that if this ever were to happen, this would be something that I wasn’t uncomfortable or not prepared for,” said Reirden, who found out about Sullivan’s COVID-19 situation just a few hours before Thursday’s game.

In one bit of good news, Penguins top-line winger Bryan Rust, out since their second game because of a lower-body injury, was a full participant Friday at practice.

Pittsburgh will be closing out a season-long, eight-game homestand.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has had a few days as a breather after downing Calgary 5-4 on Tuesday on Kirill Kaprizov’s overtime goal to end a two-game losing streak.

Kaprizov, 24, led the Wild last season with 51 points in 55 games and won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year after beginning his career with the KHL in his native Russia. But he did not get a goal through his first eight games this season, netting his first when he redirected in a pass from Kevin Fiala in overtime Tuesday.

“A lot of relief to finally get one in,” Kaprizov said through an interpreter. “Feels a lot better once you get that first one.

“Obviously, this will give me a little bit of confidence, but (the best approach is) not to really think about not scoring. Just play the game and the goals will come if you play well. That’s where I need to focus.”

Kaprizov was contributing even before the goal — he has seven assists — and Minnesota coach Dean Evason said the way opponents are playing against him can’t be discounted.

“Every team we’re playing is keying on him,” Evason said. “You see him getting hit. He gets squeezed off in the corner. They’re going to do that.”

Saturday will be Pittsburgh’s first time facing Kaprizov, thanks to the modified schedule last season due to the pandemic.

Kaprizov will be without one of his regular linemates, Mats Zuccarello, for the fourth straight game. Zuccarello and Wild forward Rem Pitlick did not travel to Pittsburgh. Both have been in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol after testing positive.

–Field Level Media

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