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Kessel's big night snaps Pens' losing streak

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The special teams gave the Penguins the jolt they needed to snap a three game skid, scoring a trio of 5v3 goals and a shorthanded goal in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tampa Bay (16-5-2) came into the PPG Paints Arena Saturday with the No. 1 ranked power play, converting 27.4 percent of the time. The Penguins’ (12-10-3) penalty kill was among the worst in the league, ranking 25th at 76.3 percent.

So when Jake Guentzel was penalized with a double minor high stick halfway through the first period, it looked like a golden chance for the Lightning to open the scoring.

Instead, Bryan Rust made a play, creating a turnover, taking the puck down center ice and depositing it over Peter Budaj’s right shoulder for a shorthanded goal 14 and a half minutes into the game.

“It gives us a lot of life,” Rust said on how a goal like his could influence a slumping team. “I think it just kind of feeds through our bench and gets everyone going.”

“I think it’s a big boost for him, personally, but also for our team, as well,” Mike Sullivan said.

That set the pace for the Penguins’ special teams, killing six of Tampa Bay’s seven power play chances.

“We’re hoping that we get some traction there. It should build our confidence, and hopefully we can grow from it,” Sullivan said. “The special teams were a big part of the game tonight.”

Rust echoed his coach when he said the difference between the penalty kill for most of the season and Saturday was they were playing with confidence.

“Anytime you’re killing penalties with confidence, that helps you as a unit,” Rust said.

The offense also thrived with one less man on the ice, going 3-8 when they had the man advantage.

The Penguins were presented a 5v3 opportunity for two whole minutes in the closing minutes of the first. Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby took advantage, with Crosby finding Kessel at the 18:03 mark, and Kessel returning the favor for the captain at 19:26. Crosby scored his second 5v3 goal 4:41 into the third, firing a wrister into the top-right corner of the net. Kessel again assisted.

Kessel scored the Pens’ fourth goal when he hauled in a home run pass from Riley Sheahan and punched in his breakaway chance.

Ondrej Palat scored the Lightning’s first goal on a power play at the 6:52 mark in the second. Cory Conacher added another with six minutes to play.

Penguins’ goaltender Tristan Jarry made 33 saves. Budaj made 29.

Jolly Jarry

The fourth time was the charm for Jarry, who earned his first career win Saturday. Jarry lost his only start last year and started this season with a pair of overtime losses, but he was presented another chance to start since the Penguins were playing for the second consecutive day and the third time out of the last four.

The results were a dream come true.

“It’s very exciting,” Jarry said. “It’s something that you can only dream of. It’s something that you think of as a kid that you might not achieve, and it’s something that came true tonight.”

Sullivan praised his rookie goaltender after the game.

“I think he had a great night, especially early on,” Sullivan said, referring to an 11-3 shot advantage Tampa Bay opened with. “...Tristan was really solid all night long for us.”

Jarry also picked up the first point of his career, getting an assist on the Rust goal.

Kessel at his best

Since he came to Pittsburgh in 2015, Kessel has gone on plenty of memorable runs where he carried his line and even his team. Most of those runs have come during the playoffs.

But on the heels of a two goal, two assist night, Sullivan made one thing clear: this is “hands down” the best the winger has played for the Penguins in the regular season.

“I give Phil so much credit. He came into camp in great shape, he worked hard in training camp and his daily habits, I think, are so good right now, and I think it’s translating into the game situations,” Sullivan said.

“This is the most consistent hockey Phil has played for us as a Penguin in my time here,” he added, later.

Kessel is currently leading the Penguins is goals (11), assists (20) and points (31).

ON DECK

The Penguins will play host to the Philadelphia Flyers Monday at 7 p.m.. It will be the first meeting this season between the two rival clubs.

NUMB3RS

1. Saturday was the third time in Kessel’s career that he scored two goals and two assists in a game. The last time he accomplished that feet was Oct. 29, 2013.

2. The Penguins are now in an eight-way tie for first place with four team shorthanded goals. Rust leads the team with two.

3. The Penguins blocked 20 shots compared to the Lightning’s eight. Brian Dumoulin and Carter Rowner both lead the way with three, but 14 different Penguins blocked a shot.

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