PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins spent 21 minutes building a massive lead over the Edmonton Oilers and the next 30 doing their best to give it away.
Poor backchecking. Spotty decision-making. The details that have been a hallmark during Pittsburgh’s recent surge vanished.
Steve Downie and Patric Hornqvist restored order just in time, scoring just over a minute apart late in the third period to help the Penguins avoid an embarrassing collapse with a 6-4 win on Thursday night.
Downie’s 12th goal of the season on a rebound at 14:38 put Pittsburgh back in front after the Penguins let a four-goal advantage slip away. Hornqvist doubled it 1:06 later with a snap shot from the left circle to help the Penguins win for the seventh time in nine games.
“We were lazy,” Hornqvist said. “We were comfortable. We didn’t work hard enough to win. That can’t happen again. Now we’ve learned our lesson. We have to stay with it.”
If the Penguins want to stay in the thick of the clustered Metropolitan Division, they don’t really have a choice.
Brandon Sutter scored twice for Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby added his 23rd goal of the season and finished with three points.
David Perron netted his 11th since coming to Pittsburgh from Edmonton in January and added an assist.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots but Pittsburgh needed an unlikely wake-up call from the Western Conference’s worst team to win.
“There are swings in games, but we don’t (want to) allow it to swing that far away and grab it back as quick as you can,” Crosby said.
Anton Lander, Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot and Derek Roy scored for the Oilers, who have lost six straight. Yet the blowout that appeared in the offing when Crosby made it 4-0 just 1:01 into the second never materialized.
Pittsburgh let the Oilers turn a listless rout into something far more compelling. Roy tied it 4-4 when he batted down a botched clearing attempt and knocked the puck past Fleury 10:04 into the third.
“We got better as the game went on,” Edmonton coach Todd Nelson said. “We battled back. We never quit, and against a team like that we can take something away from this game.”
Just not a victory.
Downie, dropped to the fourth line, reclaimed Pittsburgh’s momentum. He pounded a rebound past Richard Bachman — who came in for ineffective goalie Ben Scrivens early in the second period — to put the Penguins back up. Hornqvist, off an assist from Crosby, gave Pittsburgh the breathing room it needed.
It wasn’t quite the homecoming the Penguins expected after retooling at the trade deadline last week. They brought defenceman Lovejoy back into the fold and acquired Ian Cole for some needed depth at the blue line. The results were consecutive wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles followed by a shootout loss to San Jose.
Given a rare two-day break upon their return from the West, Pittsburgh’s legs were plenty fresh for the sagging Oilers.
Earning just their second win in Pittsburgh since 1993 hardly seemed like an option after the Oilers fell behind 3-0 before 15 minutes elapsed.
Sutter gave the Penguins the lead 4:16 in, breaking in alone on Scrivens and deking to his backhand to leave Scrivens badly out of position for his fourth shorthanded goal of the season, tied for the NHL lead.
Sutter’s even-strength goal just over five minutes later required far less skill. He flipped in a rebound off Downie’s shot for his first multi-goal game since April 6, 2014, against Colorado.
Crosby chased down a puck behind the Edmonton net and fed a streaking Perron racing in from the left circle later in the first. By the time Crosby powered in his 23rd goal of the season on the power play 1:01 into the second, the Penguins led 4-0 and Scrivens was done.
The Oilers, surprisingly, were not.
Lander and Eberle pulled Edmonton within two on a pair of dirty goals around the net as they crashed in on Fleury. When Pouliot flicked a shot over Fleury’s shoulder 4:51 into the third the Oilers were within striking distance.