PITTSBURGH — Bryan Rust got his fourth career hat trick, Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist and the short-handed Pittsburgh Penguins blitzed the New York Islanders 6-3 on Saturday night.
Evan Rodrigues and Frederick Gaudreau also scored for the Penguins. Tristan Jarry stopped 29 shots as Pittsburgh pulled within two points of New York and Washington for first place in the crowded East Division.
Mathew Barzal ended a 10-game goal drought by picking up his 10th of the season. Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle also scored for New York, but the Penguins beat the Islanders for the fifth time in seven meetings by chasing Ilya Sorokin.
The 25-year-old rookie had been unbeaten since mid-February, but his eight-game run — one of them a 2-0 shutout win over the Penguins — came to an abrupt end after giving up four goals on nine shots before being replaced by Semyon Varlamov.
The teams play again Monday night.
The Penguins are missing five forwards — Evgeni Malkin, Kasperi Kapanen, Jason Zucker, Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev — due to injury. All five play on one of Pittsburgh’s top three lines, leaving in their place a patched-together group that is starting to take some of the scoring load off Crosby, Rust and Jake Guentzel.
On Thursday night, it was recently promoted forward Radim Zohorna scoring on his first shot in the NHL in a shutout victory over the reeling Sabres.
On Saturday night, it was Gaudreau scoring his first NHL goal in more than two years that got Pittsburgh rolling. He finished off a rush by taking a crossing pass from Sam Lafferty and flipping it over Sorokin’s glove 5:49 into the first period.
Rodrigues made it 2-0 just past the period’s midway point when his shot from the top of the circle threaded through a sea of bodies and into the net. The shots were two of just four the Penguins managed in the first period. The Islanders kept Jarry significantly busier. But when Pittsburgh came out flying in the second, New York had little response.
Crosby and Rust scored power-play goals less than 2 minutes apart to put the Penguins firmly in control. Crosby, who became the eighth-fastest player to reach 1,300 career points on Thursday, collected his 1,301st with a backhand rebound flip from in front 4:26 into the second.
Crosby then picked up career point 1,302 just 1:52 later when his touch pass from the goal line found Rust wide open coming down the slot. Rust’s 12th of the season zipped past Sorokin, who was summoned to the bench moments later by coach Barry Trotz in favor of Varlamov. The loss ended the longest winning streak by a rookie goaltender in franchise history.
Varlamov didn’t fare much better than Sorokin, giving up a juicy rebound off Kris Letang’s slap shot from the point that Rust pounced on and jabbed into the open net just 2:03 after Varlamov entered.
New York scored three straight, eventually pulling within one on Eberle’s sixth of the season with 2:27 remaining. The Islanders had several chances to get closer thanks to a penalty on Rust, but Rust exited the box to find the puck loose at center ice. He raced to the empty net to seal it.
The Penguins improved to 10-2-1 in their last 13 games, a surge that has been required to keep pace with the Capitals and Islanders. The loss was just New York’s third setback in regulation since Feb. 22 as Pittsburgh, Washington and the Islanders have separated themselves from the rest of the division.
Cox Media Group