PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jake Guentzel’s 40th goal of the season had a significant impact on the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Guentzel scored with 2:35 to play, sending Saturday’s regular-season finale against the New York Rangers to overtime.
Ryan Strome scored 2:09 into overtime, as the Rangers beat Pittsburgh 4-3 on Saturday night, but the point the Penguins earned prevented them from dropping into the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.
“There was a lot of emotion,” Guentzel said. “It was nice to get that one and get a big point for us.”
Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Nick Bjugstad scored for the Penguins, who earned a point to secure third-place in the Metropolitan Division and a matchup with the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. Matt Murray finished with 26 saves while starting 20 of Pittsburgh’s last 21 games.
Because of Carolina’s regulation win on Saturday, a regulation loss would’ve dropped Pittsburgh to the first wild card in the Eastern Conference. That would’ve matched Pittsburgh with the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, the team that ended the Penguins’ run of back-to-back championships last season.
Instead, Pittsburgh will get the Islanders in the first round.
“The Islanders will be a tough opponent,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re a real good team, they had a great year and we’ve had some really hard-fought battles against them. I’m excited about the opportunity that we have.”
Brendan Smith, Brady Skjei and Vladislav Namestnikov also scored for New York, long eliminated from playoff contention for the second straight year. Alexandar Georgiev stopped 36 shots while starting for the second straight night. The Rangers snapped a three-game skid and won for just the fifth time in their final 21 games (5-10-6).
“I just thanked them for their effort,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “This has been a great group to coach. Obviously, not the season we wanted to have and certainly not the record we wanted to have. We certainly want to be playing past this point next year, but they gave it their all.”
Skjei and Namestnikov scored 1:16 apart to give the Rangers a 3-2 lead with 6:10 remaining in regulation. Namestnikov’s go-ahead goal was the 15th short-handed score allowed by Pittsburgh, tied for worst in the league.
“You go out there for a power play with a chance to win the game and it changes pretty quickly when you get scored on,” Crosby said. “I think it’s how we got to that point, the fact that they scored two quick ones.”
However, Guentzel came through for Pittsburgh. He became the 20th player in franchise history to score at least 40 goals. Crosby, who scored his 35th earlier in the game, had an assist on the play for his 100th point. Crosby reached the mark for the sixth time in his career, and first time since 2013-14.
“Sid and Jake have probably been our most consistent players all year,” Sullivan said. “I think 40 goals in this league is quite an accomplishment, especially a young player like Jake. I think Sid getting 100 points is a great accomplishment as well.”
The Penguins were happy with their third-period comeback, but they weren’t particularly pleased with the regular-season finale as a whole against the Rangers.
Pittsburgh will look to rectify that in the playoffs against the Islanders.
“I don’t think it was one of our better games as of late,” Sullivan said. “I thought we were loose as far as our play away from the puck and as a result, we gave up more quality chances than we should have. I have to believe we’re excited about the opportunity in front of us. I know we’re capable of playing a lot better.”
Pittsburgh recorded 100 points for the 10th time in the last 12 full seasons. Penguins D Brian Dumoulin missed his third straight game, but he skated Saturday morning. Guentzel joined Chris Kunitz as the only players other than Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to lead the team in goals during the Crosby and Malkin era. Guentzel, Phil Kessel, and Jack Johnson played all 82 games for Pittsburgh.
Kessel played in every game for the ninth consecutive year, a total of 774 straight games. Pettersson, who spent time in Anaheim this season, led the league in games played with 84 this season. Mika Zibanejad played in every game for New York.
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