PITTSBURGH — Matt Murray robbed Connor McDavid on a penalty shot for one of his 38 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the struggling Edmonton Oilers 3-1 on Wednesday night.
Murray’s acrobatic stop on McDavid late in the second period protected a Pittsburgh lead and the Penguins held on to sweep the season series.
Bryan Rust, Teddy Blueger and Jared McCann all scored as Pittsburgh picked up two vital points despite playing without suspended centre Evgeni Malkin, forced to sit while serving a one-game suspension for an illegal high stick. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby finished with one assist and spent large portions of the night going head to head with McDavid.
McDavid picked up an assist on Leon Draisaitl’s first-period goal but was otherwise held in check. Mikko Koskinen stopped 31 shots for the Oilers but couldn’t stop Edmonton from falling for the eighth time in nine games.
The second meeting of the season between two of the game’s biggest stars lacked the electricity of the first — when McDavid and Crosby both scored, with Crosby getting the winner in overtime back on Oct. 23 — but with considerably higher stakes, at least for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins entered play with a tenuous one-point lead over Carolina for the second wild-card spot in the jam-packed Eastern Conference. Though Pittsburgh rode a career-high 50 saves from Murray in a one-sided road victory in Philadelphia on Monday, it also continued a pattern of one step forward, one step back.
Defenceman Olli Maatta went down in the first period with an upper-body injury that will sideline him indefinitely and the NHL ordered Malkin to sit out as penance after Malkin flung his stick wildly at Philadelphia’s Michael Raffl late in the third period, forcing Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan to get creative in an effort keep his team’s fragile momentum going. He moved Nick Bjugstad to centre the second line and reshuffled the defensive pairings, including giving Chad Ruhwedel his first appearance since Nov. 19.
It led to a bit of a sluggish start, and McDavid wasted little time taking advantage as the Penguins tried to find their footing. He got a pass in front of the Pittsburgh bench from Oscar Klefbom to spark a 2-on-1 and slid a pass over to Draisaitl that beat Murray 4:45 into the game for his 33rd of the season.
Rust gave the Penguins a needed spark early in the second period when he put together a dazzling short-handed shift with Matt Cullen that ended with Rust creeping out from behind the Edmonton net and stuffing a puck past Koskinen at 2:35.
Blueger put Pittsburgh in front at 6:10 when Kris Letang banked a pass off the side of the Edmonton net that landed on the rookie’s stick. Blueger ripped it by Koskinen for his third goal in seven career games.
McDavid’s speed provided the Oilers with a chance to tie it late in the second when he split Letang and Jake Guentzel on a breakaway. Guentzel held McDavid as he raced past and the referees awarded McDavid a penalty shot. He drifted in slowly on Murray then tried to lift the puck by the goaltender as he made his way across the crease only to have Murray snatch it out of the air with his glove as the 559th consecutive sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena roared.
Murray kept the Oilers at bay in the third despite pretty steady pressure, and when McCann found the empty net with a minute to go the Penguins had picked up consecutive victories for just the second time in five weeks.
NOTES: Edmonton went 0 for 2 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 1. … Rust’s goal gave the Penguins nine this season with a man down.
Oilers: At Carolina on Friday night.
Penguins: Host Calgary on Saturday.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press