PITTSBURGH — Mike Sullivan has spent the last five months praising his team’s resilience, so the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins coach expected a “spirited” response after watching his club get pushed around by the New York Rangers on Friday night.
What Sullivan got Sunday against Detroit wasn’t resilience so much as dominance — the kind that provided a reminder that when healthy and in full flight, the Penguins remain as dangerous as ever.
Evgeni Malkin scored three goals to boost his career hat-trick total to 13 — second-most among active players — as Pittsburgh overwhelmed the reeling Red Wings in an 11-2 blowout.
Sidney Crosby, Kasperi Kapanen, Jeff Carter, Teddy Blueger, Danton Heinen, Brian Boyle, Bryan Rust and recently acquired Rickard Rakell also scored for the Penguins, who needed less than 30 minutes to take a 6-0 lead on their way to their first 11-goal game in nearly 30 years.
“Tonight was substantially more fun than the other night,” said Rust, who added two assists to go with his 22nd goal of the season. “To kind of play on our toes and not be on our heels at home was also very fun. I think we’ve just got to take what we did well this game and build on it.”
Tristan Jarry made 33 saves to win for the sixth time in his last seven starts as Pittsburgh bounced back from an uncharacteristically listless performance at Madison Square Garden to produce the franchise’s first 11-goal game since an 11-5 victory over Philadelphia on Nov. 16, 1993.
“I can’t remember the last time a team I’ve been on scored that many goals,” Rust said. “These games are fun. Like I said, it’s only one night. Got to learn from the good and move forward.”
The Penguins also stayed one point ahead of the Rangers for second place in the tight Metropolitan Division. New York visits PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday night. If the season ended on Sunday, the two rivals would face each other in the first round. And with the first-place Carolina Hurricanes ahead of the pace with 93 points, a 2-3 opening matchup with the Penguins and Rangers seems likely.
Dylan Larkin scored his 28th goal for Detroit and Jakub Vrana added his sixth, but it wasn’t nearly enough as the Red Wings lost for the ninth time in 11 games. Alex Nedeljkovic absorbed most of Pittsburgh’s early onslaught, giving up four goals before being replaced by Calvin Pickard after Carter’s short-handed goal 3:18 into the second made it 4-0.
Pickard fared no better, giving up four goals on 13 shots before exiting in the third period after a collision with Rakell, forcing Nedeljkovic to come back in. He fared no better the second time around than he did the first, ultimately allowing seven goals on 22 total shots faced.
“For a long time through the season, we were in the mix of things,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We were excited about that. Now we’re not. I’m not sure if we feel sorry for ourselves, whatever. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. We have to figure out a way to go out and play way better.”
Two days after being outplayed from the start by the Rangers, Pittsburgh responded by showcasing the kind of depth they’ll need if they want to make a deep playoff run.
The Penguins added Rakell at the deadline last week in hopes of taking some of the scoring pressure off of Crosby and Malkin. While the two superstars had little trouble finding the net against Detroit, they had plenty of help. Five of Pittsburgh’s goals came from players in the bottom six: Carter, Heinen, Kapanen, Blueger and Boyle.
Kapanen scored his second goal in six games by starting the deluge with a pretty move that left him alone with Nedeljkovic. One deke and Kapanen had little trouble tapping the puck into the empty net for his 11th goal just 4:16 in.
The ease with which Kapanen scored was a sign of things to come. Blueger doubled the lead 14:23 into the first with a shot off the rush. Malkin’s first goal — a slap shot on the power play directly after a faceoff — made it 3-0 less than 2 minutes into the second. Carter’s short-handed goal — just the third of the season by Pittsburgh — pushed it to 4-0 and chased Nedeljkovic.
Rust’s goal after Pickard entered also gave Malkin 696 career assists, tied with Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov for the most by a Russian-born player. Malkin’s hat trick gave him 16 goals in 30 games since returning from offseason knee surgery.
“When he’s at his best, he’s one of the few players that can take a game over and we’re fortunate we have a couple of them on our team,” Sullivan said. “He’s a generational talent, he and [Crosby]. In my mind, Geno is one of the greatest players of all time.”
Goals late in the second by Larkin and Vrana gave the Red Wings life, but only briefly. Crosby’s 24th goal of the season off a nice cross-ice feed from Evan Rodrigues just 77 seconds after Vrana’s score added more fuel to an already roaring fire.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.