PITTSBURGH - The puck fluttered into the air and Matt Cullen turned away so he wouldn’t get smacked in the face.
Too bad. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward missed his fourth — and unlikeliest — goal of the season, one that helped propel Cullen’s surging team to a 4-0 victory over Winnipeg on Friday night that extended Pittsburgh’s winning streak to eight and pushed its early season funk further into the rearview mirror.
“Yeah it’s funny how that goes,” Cullen said after teammate Zach Aston-Reese’s pass caromed off Cullen’s left shoulder and past Connor Hellebuyck to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 first-period lead it would never come close to relinquishing. “When things are going not good, pucks are bouncing in your net and they’re not going in for you. Obviously this run here, things have gone our way.”
It’s not just luck. The Penguins bottled up the Central Division-leading Jets for long stretches, keeping them mostly to the outside and limiting the number of quality scoring chances goaltender Matt Murray faced. Murray responded by stopping all 33 shots for his third shutout of the season and ninth of his career.
A bit of a mess in October and November when he battled both injuries and his form, Murray is 7-0 with a 1.27 goals against average and a .961 save percentage since returning from a 13-game absence on Dec. 15.
“He always has a calm demeanor in goal, a quiet confidence when he’s at his best,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “From that standpoint I think he’s in a whole different place than he was mentally earlier in the year when it was a struggle not just for Matt but all of us.”
Olli Maatta picked up his first goal since late March when his shot from the point deflected off Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler and slipped past Hellebuyck 14:19 into the first. Cullen’s unlikely bank shot followed 33 seconds later and the Penguins were in firm control.
Hurricanes 4, Blue Jackets 2
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Greg McKegg had a goal and an assist in his Carolina debut and the Hurricanes beat Columbus.
Red Wings 4, Predators 3 (OT)
In Detroit, Dylan Larkin scored with 24.9 seconds left in overtime as the Red Wings won for the first time in seven games.
Stars 2, Capitals 1 (OT)
In Dallas, Tyler Seguin’s second goal of the game 3:37 into overtime lifted the Stars past Washington.
Avalanche 6, Rangers 1
In Denver, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen had power-play goals, helping Colorado end a six-game slide.
Golden Knights 3, Ducks 2
In Anaheim, Max Pacioretty scored in his return to the Vegas lineup and the Golden Knights won their fifth straight.
Devils 3, Coyotes 2 (SO)
In Glendale, Arizona, Keith Kinkaid stopped 21 shots and had two saves in a shootout, lifting New Jersey to its fourth win in six games.