Kessel OT goal lifts Pens
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray was just happy to be back on the ice after a rocky start to the season.
Murray made his first start in a month and his strong play, particularly in overtime, helped the Penguins to another win.
Phil Kessel scored a power-play goal at 3:59 of overtime to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.
“It feels like forever since I played,” Murray said. “It was just really exciting. I was having a blast, just being back out there. And to get a win on top of that, I was very thankful.”
Evgeni Malkin pushed a loose puck from the slot to Kessel, and he finished near the side of the net for the Penguins’ fifth victory in seven games.
Tanner Pearson scored against his former team, and Matt Cullen and Bryan Rust also had goals for the Penguins. Matt Murray made 38 saves for his first victory since Oct. 25 at Calgary.
Murray stopped Tyler Toffoli’s breakaway in the first 30 seconds of overtime. Murray also denied a quality overtime chance from Jake Muzzin in the slot.
“Playing in a tight game like that with a lot of chances, a lot of excitement, that’s a lot of fun, especially going back and forth in overtime,” Murray said. “It’s pretty nerve-wracking, but it’s fun at the same time.”
Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan was pleased with Murray’s performance.
“I thought Matt was really good for the first game back for as long as he’s been out,” Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought he was really sharp and he got better as the game went on. We gave up a couple breakaways in overtime and those were huge saves for us.”
Muzzin, Matt Luff and Alex Iafallo scored for Los Angeles, and Jonathan Quick stopped 32 shots. The Kings have lost four straight and eight of 10.
Iafallo tied it at 3 with a power-play goal at 12:30 of the third period.
“The guys, they want to win, and they have the drive,” Kings’ coach Willie Desjardins said. “Every guy is upset when we lose. I believe in the leaders on this team and I think they want to win. We didn’t get it done, but I thought they battled hard.”
Murray missed the previous nine games with a lower-body injury before backing up Casey DeSmith the last two contests. He made his first start since Nov. 17 when he was pulled for the third time in six starts during a loss at Ottawa.
Murray, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, struggled through his first 11 games, posting a 4-5-1 record with a 4.08 goals-against average and a .877 save percentage.
“After coming back from injury like that, you definitely get the butterflies,” Murray said. “I don’t know how long it’s been, but it feels like forever since I last played.”
Cullen’s short-handed goal opened the scoring for Pittsburgh. It was the Penguins’ second of the season and second in as many games.
Rust extended the Penguins’ lead to 2-0 later in the period when he beat Quick to the glove side with a wrist shot.
Toffoli scored in the first period for the Kings, but the goal was overturned following a Pittsburgh offsides challenge.
Muzzin’s goal stood at 3:22 of the second period. Muzzin, a former Penguins’ draft pick, finished a one-timer from Anze Kopitar during an odd-man rush.
Pearson put Pittsburgh in front 3-1 midway through the second period. He stripped Drew Doughty of the puck at the Kings’ blueline, eluded Quick’s poke check and elevated a shot above the fallen Kings’ goaltender.
Pearson skated four full seasons and parts of two others with the Kings before he was traded to the Penguins on Nov. 14 in exchange for Carl Hagelin, who is out with a lower-body injury. Pearson, who won a Stanley Cup with Los Angeles in 2014, has four goals and six points in 16 games with Pittsburgh.
Luff pulled Los Angeles back within one when he beat Murray to the blocker side with a wrist shot from the slot.
But Murray did enough down the stretch to earn the win in his return.
“I just had a blast and it was a lot of fun being back out there,” Murray said.