PITTSBURGH — Mike Sullivan would love to point to a coaching tactic or some semblance of strategy that explains why the Pittsburgh Penguins are so good in overtime.
Only Sullivan can’t. He’s been coaching long enough to know that when there are six just men on the ice and his team happens to have one of the most gifted offensive groups in the NHL, it’s best to just get out of the way.
"For the most part, it’s really just about great players making great plays and when our guys have the puck, they’re dynamic," Sullivan said.
The latest proof came midway through the extra period on Monday, when Phil Kessel drew Calgary’s Jon Gillies away from the net and slipped a cross-ice pass to Justin Schultz , who buried it to give the Penguins a 4-3 victory. Schultz’s fourth goal of the season helped the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions improve to 10-1 at home in overtime this season.
"We’ve got the players that are so good out there with that much ice, so we enjoy it," Schultz said. "We don’t like to go to (overtime) that much, but it’s nice to know that we can get wins."
Evgeni Malkin scored his 37th goal for the Penguins and added an assist. Kris Letang and Chad Ruhwedel also scored for Pittsburgh. Jarry finished with 35 saves as the Penguins pulled within one point of Washington for first in the crowded Metropolitan Division. Tristan Jarry finished with 35 saves, including a breakaway stop on Calgary star Johnny Gaudreau early in overtime.
"They got some physical guys, they have a couple bigger guys," Jarry said. "We knew it would be a tough game. I was trying to hold my ground as much as I could."
Mark Giordano, Mikael Backlund and Troy Brouwer scored for the Flames, who outplayed the Penguins for long stretches before dropping their fourth straight. Gillies stopped 28 shots but had no chance when Kessel slid a cross-ice pass to a wide-open Schultz.
"We go into overtime and it can be anybody’s game," Calgary coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We had a 2-on-0 there that could’ve ended it, but when you’ve got that many dangerous guys on the ice with that much room, somebody’s going to end it. It just happened to be them on that next chance."
The Penguins had dropped five straight to the Flames, including a 2-1 overtime loss in Calgary in November back when they played very much like a team dealing with a Stanley Cup hangover. Four months later, Pittsburgh is again looking like a threat to make a deep playoff run and wasted little time sprinting to a 2-0 lead.
Ruhwedel collected his first goal since Dec. 18 on a knuckler from the point 2:10 into the game, and Malkin doubled Pittsburgh’s advantage 55 seconds later when teammate Bryan Rust forced a turnover by Gillies behind the Calgary net. Malkin collected the puck and flipped it across the goal line before Gillies could scramble back into position.
The Flames, in the middle of their own fight to stay in the Western Conference playoff mix, tied it before the end of the first. Giordano finished off extended pressure with his 11th of the season and Backlund beautifully deked by Letang before beating Jarry with a backhand for his 13th.
Letang put the Penguins back in front with a wrist shot off the rush from the right circle that ripped over Gillies’ right shoulder with 2:59 left in the second. Calgary responded again, with T.J. Brodie threading a pass between Ruhwedel’s legs to Brouwer’s awaiting stick. Brouwer had no trouble sending it by Jarry to tie it with 2 seconds left in the period.
NOTES: Penguins G Matt Murray skated on Monday morning but remains out indefinitely while dealing with a concussion sustained last week. … Several Penguins used rainbow-colored Pride tape on their sticks during warmups. The sticks will be auctioned by the team’s foundations, with the proceeds going to the "You Can Play" organization, which promotes inclusion in all sports for LGBTQ athletes. … Calgary scratched Fs Tanner Glass, Chris Stewart and Nick Short as well as D Matt Bartkowski. … The Penguins scratched D Matt Hunwick, Fs Carter Rowney and Zach Aston-Reese and Murray. … Both teams were 0 for 2 on the power play. … Pittsburgh is 13-1 in its last 14 games at PPG Paints Arena.
Flames: Continue their three-game trip in Buffalo on Wednesday.
Penguins: Visit Philadelphia on Wednesday. Pittsburgh leads the season series 2-0 over its Metropolitan Division rival.