PITTSBURGH(AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins insist they’re well aware of the bumpy road ahead as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions chase history.
Just in case they needed a reminder, Alex Pietrangelo and the St. Louis Blues provided one.
Pietrangelo’s wrist shot from just inside the left circle beat Matt Murray 1:15 into overtime to give the Blues a 5-4 victory Wednesday night in the season opener for both teams. The Blues recovered after letting a two-goal, third-period lead slip away, with Pietrangelo’s shot hitting Murray’s shoulder and slipping under the crossbar for his second goal of the game.
Paul Stastny had a goal and an assist for the Blues, Brayden Schenn and Colton Parayko also scored and Jake Allen finished with 29 saves.
“Gave up the two goals, but we held it together on the bench,” Pietrangelo said. “We knew we had a chance, especially if we got to overtime and we did.”
Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary scored 54 seconds apart in the third to tie it, but the Penguins couldn’t complete the comeback on a night they raised the franchise’s fifth Cup banner to the rafters at PPG Paints Arena. Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta also scored for the Penguins. Murray stopped 29 shots but Pittsburgh struggled at times defensively, giving the Blues wide swaths of open ice to take aim at Murray.
“I think that we’d rather not put ourselves in that position, but that was the case, and I thought we found a way to get a couple big goals and get ourselves back in it,” Crosby said. “We’ve got to improve. But yeah, I mean to get that point was important. We have to build off of that now.”
Just 115 days after finishing off a heated challenge from Nashville in the finals, the Penguins began the quest for the first three-peat in 35 years with one last nod to the 2016-17 club that became the first team since Detroit in 1997 and 1998 to go back-to-back.
The players received their commemorative bling during a private ceremony on Tuesday night, coming together to pose with their respective nine-carat rings that feature nearly 400 diamonds and come engraved with coach Mike Sullivan’s mantra “play the right way.”
On Wednesday the party grew considerably larger, with the 485th consecutive home sellout roaring during an electric pregame ceremony that included Crosby skating to mid-ice with the Cup held aloft and the 2017 banner making its way to the rafters to join the four that came before it.
Then the puck dropped, the adrenaline faded and the reality Pittsburgh faces hit.
The Penguins were able to keep the roster nearly intact following their 2016 title. This time around they’ll be forced to go without Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley, all of whom moved on over the summer. Finding out how the new pieces fit together will take time. The proof came during three uneven periods against the Blues, who wasted little time putting a damper on things.
“We know what it is,” Pietrangelo said. “You want to come in here and spoil the party, but we didn’t watch it. Obviously, we were in here. We knew they were going to have some momentum from it. There was going to be a push from them.”
Schultz opened the scoring with a shot from the point that sailed through traffic to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead but St. Louis scored four of the next five goals, many of them coming when Pittsburgh’s defense kept backing up, creating open shooting lanes in the process. When Stastny ripped a shot past Murray’s blocker 3:38 into the third, St. Louis was in firm control.
Or so it seemed. Robert Bortuzzo and Schenn were hit with penalties 16 seconds apart with less than 8 minutes to go, and the Penguins pounced. Crosby jammed home a rebound , and Sheary finished off a crossing pass from Greg McKegg to knot it at 4. Allen settled down to keep Pittsburgh in check the rest of the way, and Pietrangelo ended it 75 seconds into the extra period.
“Obviously, a special night for (Pittsburgh),” Pietrangelo said. “We’re not going to deny that. They deserve to have that night. Hopefully, we get that opportunity.”
NOTES: The Blues went 1 for 4 on the power play. The Penguins were 1 for 5. … Pittsburgh D Kris Letang played 26:05 in his first game since Feb. 21. Letang missed the playoffs while recovering from neck surgery.
Blues: Host Dallas on Saturday night.
Penguins: At Chicago on Thursday night.