Beaten, bruised, battered and suspended the Pittsburgh Penguins continue to find ways to win.
The Penguins dominated the first 40 minutes, taking a 4-1 lead heading into the final frame. From there, things got interesting.
The Wild scored early in the third period to make it a 4-2 game with 15 minutes remaining, and then after penalties on Olli Maatta and Craig Adams just 13 seconds apart, the Wild were set up to make it a one goal game with a long 5-on-3 advantage.
The Penguins penalty kill, which is currently ranked third best in the NHL, came through once again. Simon Despres was on all fours to cut off the back door pass and Zach Sill was seemingly in every lane attempting to block shots.
Before you knew it, the 5-on-3 advantage was over, and Maatta was set free.
As Maatta came out of the box, the Penguins sent an aerial over both Wild defensemen and onto the tape of Maatta who was in all alone. After a hook disallowed him from a quality chance, a penalty shot was awarded.
With 12:06 remaining in the third period, Maatta took the puck wide, faked to his backhand, then fired a shot on his forehand just over the pad of Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
What could have been a 4-3 or even 4-4 game turned into a commanding 5-2 lead for the Penguins.
The Pens have now killed off 5-on-3 power plays in consecutive nights.
Maatta, who is only 19 years old, became just the second Penguins defensemen to ever score on a penalty shot. The other was George Konik back in 1968 – the first year the Penguins had a team.
The goal was his third point of the night, a career high for the Finn.
Maatta has found a way to make a difference every night, and he is a key reason why the Penguins have only lost twice in regulation over the last 17 games. His defensive partner, Matt Niskanen, needs to be given some credit as well. He has been the veteran on the blue line for the Penguins who have been playing without Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi and the recently suspended Deryk Engelland.
Maatta, who logged over 20 minutes of ice time for the fourth straight game, has adapted well into his new role as a shutdown defenseman. Zach Parise, who came into Thursday nights game as the Wild's leading goal scorer, was held without a point and had a minus-3 rating.
He may only be 19 years old, but it'd be impossible to tell by watching him play.
Jeff Zatkoff stopped 24 of 26 shots for the Pens and improved his record to 6-2-1.
Thursday night was also the return of James Neal, who was returning from a five game suspension. Neal had an assist and a fight in his return.
The Penguins have now won 11 of their last 12 games and will look to extend their winning streak Saturday afternoon when the Calgary Flames come to town. Puck drop is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST.
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