Penguins rally to steal one from Sharks in Cup rematch

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PITTSBURGH — After two periods on Thursday night it looked as if the San Jose Sharks were going to cruise to a win against a banged up Pittsburgh Penguins team in a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup final.

At that point the Penguins were down on the scoreboard, their defensemen were dropping like drummers from Spinal Tap, and the Sharks were in complete control of the game by pretty much every objective measure.

But hockey is a crazy sport, and sometimes on any given night you have to expect the unexpected because in a league where almost every game is decided by a single goal, there is a very fine line between winning and losing.

In the end, “unexpected” would probably be a good way to describe the Penguins’ come-from-behind 3-2 win given the circumstances.

It was made possible thanks to a massive third period rally that saw them score three goals in seven minutes while playing nearly half of the game with only four defensemen against one of the best teams in the league.

Even before their defensemen started exiting on Thursday, the Penguins were already dealing with a handful of significant injuries entering the game.

Their captain, Sidney Crosby, is still sidelined with a concussion. Matt Murray, the goalie the backstopped them to a championship in June, has yet to play this season due to a hand injury at the World Cup. Then on Tuesday they lost their best defenseman — and arguably their most important player — when Kris Letang had to exit with an upper body injury. Conor Sheary, a top-line winger alongside Crosby in last year’s playoffs and the Game 2 overtime hero, was also injured in that game when he took a stick to the eye.

It only managed to get worse for them against San Jose when defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta had to leave midway through the second period with injuries of their own.

Things started to border on the absurd late in the third period when Ian Cole was hit up high by shot and was clearly shaken up as he slowly skated to the bench. They were on the verge of having to find a forward that could moonlight as a defenseman.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked after the game what the contingency plan was for being down to only three defensemen if it came to that. He joked that maybe they will have to start keeping assistant coach Jacques Martin’s equipment behind the bench.

The three third period goals — scored by Evgeni Malkin, Scott Wilson and Patric Hornqvist — are obviously the story of the comeback, because without them it goes in the standings as a loss.

But what stands out about this win for Pittsburgh was the fact they did it with such a ridiculously shorthanded roster. Already without Letang, that put a ton of pressure on the four players remaining on the blue line: Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Cole and Justin Schultz. All four of them ended the game playing more than 21 minutes.

Even putting aside the logistical nightmare of having to play with only four defensemen for that amount of time, it’s also a pretty big matchup problem against a team as good and deep as San Jose. Let’s be honest, for as good as those players have been for the Penguins, none of them are what most would describe as top defensemen. There is not a Kris Letang in that group.

But in a lot of ways it was symbolic of the way the Penguns’ Stanley Cup defense came together. A group of players that were tossed aside by other team and was viewed for much of the season (and even into the playoffs) as the biggest question mark on the team. But they always found a way to come together and make it the whole thing work.

They did it again on Thursday.

“I thought they all did a terrific job,” said Sullivan.

“Anytime you go down two defenseman that early in a game, it’s tough. It puts a lot of pressure on the players that are still in there, and I thought they did a great job simplifying game.”

Along with their ability to simplify the game (something that kind of goes against what the Penguins normally ask their defenseman to do in such an aggressive, up-tempo system), Sullivan also credited the Penguins forwards in the third period for playing a more north-south game and not forcing them to spend as much time in their own zone.

When the second period game to a close the Penguins were down a pair of goals and were getting badly outshot by a 27-10 margin, including 17-4 in the second period alone. It was total domination from the San Jose side.

All it took to get things rolling in the other direction was a goal from Malkin and a couple of greasy goals around the front of the net, including the winner from Hornqvist.

“I don’t know if it’s a win the way we drew it up,” said Sullivan. “But I said to the guys after the second period, you can win ugly in this league. You don’t get style points at the end of the night. It’s about finding ways to win, and when you play an 82-game schedule you’re going to have these nights. I think that is resilience. That is toughness. That is a competitive spirit that we need to continue to develop, and I know this group has it.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.