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Carter and Smith score late as Penguins pull away from Blue Jackets 5-3 to end 3-game skid


PITTSBURGH (AP) — Change, perhaps significant change, is coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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One thing, however, has remained a constant for Pittsburgh during an underachieving season: mastery over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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Jeff Carter and Reilly Smith scored just over a minute apart midway through the third period and the Penguins beat their Metropolitan Division rivals for the 10th time in 11 meetings, 5-3 on Tuesday night.

“These games have gone the opposite way the last little bit so it was nice to finally come up with a win and deservedly so,” Smith said after Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid. “We were the better team for a lot of the night.”

Columbus had tied it earlier in the period on a short-handed goal by Jack Roslovic before Carter and Smith beat rookie goaltender Jet Greaves to give the Penguins some breathing room.

Rickard Rakell turned a fluky redirect for his ninth goal of the season, Evgeni Malkin collected his 18th and Jesse Puljujarvi added his first for the Penguins. Ryan Graves had two assists. Smith added a pair of assists to cross the career 500-point mark.

“It means a lot to be honest,” Smith said. “I would have been happy with one growing up. Time goes by fast and you just try to enjoy every moment.”

Tristan Jarry stopped 33 shots as Pittsburgh bounced back from a nightmarish western road trip that put a significant dent in its already slim playoff chances.

Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Peeke scored 57 seconds apart in the second period to briefly erase a two-goal deficit. Greaves finished with 26 saves in his fourth career start.

“Obviously, they’ve had our team’s number for a while here,” Gaudreau said. “But we keep playing like we have been in the last few games here and how we did in the second and third, we’ll get a win here.”

The Penguins limped in having seen whatever playoff chances they had likely evaporate following road losses to Seattle, Calgary and Edmonton. The last two were particularly painful, with Pittsburgh squandering a two-goal third period lead against the Flames to lose in regulation and then getting blown out by the Oilers the next day.

While captain Sidney Crosby among others has stressed he’s not ready to give up, with the Penguins entering Tuesday as close to the last-place Blue Jackets as a playoff spot, first-year general manager Kyle Dubas will likely be a seller before Friday’s trade deadline.

Star forward Jake Guentzel — currently out with an upper-body injury but eligible to come off injured reserve as early as Sunday — could be gone by the weekend. So could Smith, who has cooled off considerably following a hot start after being acquired in a trade with Vegas last summer.

“It’s obviously tough when you don’t know the situation around the team with the trade deadline coming,” Jarry said. “There’s a lot of unknowns so I think it’s about playing for each other and playing hard every night, that’s all we can do at this point is play hard every night and give it our best and try and string some wins together.”

The Penguins found their legs quickly, converting turnovers into first-period goals by Puljujarvi and Malkin, who has now scored in consecutive games for the first time since December.

Columbus evened the game briefly in the second before one of the flukier goals of the season put the Penguins back in front. Pittsburgh was on the power play when Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson attempted a clear from behind the Columbus net. The puck instead hit Rakell’s skate and made its way by Greaves.

Roslovic tied it 8:04 into the third but the Penguins — who have struggled to maintain third-period leads of late, one of the reasons they’re in danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight season — responded in time.

“Other than the Edmonton game, we’ve some pretty good starts over the last few and just keeping our cool for the whole 60 minutes is what we need to work on,” Smith said. “I think we did a better job doing that tonight.”

UP NEXT

Blue Jackets: Host Edmonton on Thursday night.

Penguins: Host Alex Ovechkin and Washington on Thursday night.

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AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com.hub/NHL



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