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Penguins fall to Kings

Los Angeles Kings' Pierre-Luc Dubois (80) hooks Pittsburgh Penguins' Colin White (36) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — The Los Angeles Kings began a four-game East Coast road swing last week with perhaps their lowest point of the season.

They finished it with arguably their highest. So far anyway.

Adrian Kempe scored twice in the third period, including a short-handed go-ahead goal with 3:10 to play as the Kings rallied past the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Sunday night.

Los Angeles won its third straight following a blowout loss to Buffalo last week that threatened to send the Kings into a tailspin.

Instead, they responded by knocking off New Jersey, Boston and then the Penguins, playing the role of spoiler on a night Pittsburgh honored franchise icon Jaromir Jagr, who had his No. 68 retired during a pregame ceremony.

“Pretty proud of the team, for sure,” Los Angeles coach Jim Hiller said. “The last period looked like the first period in Jersey, which is when we really started getting ourselves going.”

Sidney Crosby scored his 31st goal of the season for Pittsburgh with a power-play goal late in the first period but the Penguins let a chance to build momentum at the start of a pivotal four-game homestand slip away over the final 20 minutes.

Kempe tied it with 6:11 to play with a slap shot from the point that appeared to deflect off Pittsburgh’s Rickard Rakell to get past Tristan Jarry. Just over three minutes later Kempe gave the Kings the lead when he finished off a shorthanded two-on-one by ripping a wrist shot between Jarry’s legs.

“Pretty even game, but we played solid again,” Kempe said. “We got the two deserving points that maybe we didn’t get a couple weeks ago.”

Cam Talbot finished with 29 saves for Los Angeles, which has won five of six.

“We saw the resiliency yesterday (in Boston),” Talbot said. “We knew that even though we were down going into the third period that we could pull another one out tonight. That’s what we were able to do.”

The Penguins, scrambling to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race, struggled to generate much offensively while playing without second-leading scorer Jake Guentzel, who is out for up to four weeks with an upper-body injury. Jarry made 31 saves and was just over six minutes away from his NHL-leading seventh shutout before things fell apart.

“We weren’t quit on our toes enough in the third,” Crosby said. “Obviously, they were going to push but they played yesterday and I think we were probably guilty of allowing them to dictate the game a little bit more there late.”

Crosby practically willed the Penguins to victory last Thursday in their first game without Guentzel, scoring twice in a win at Chicago. He seemed poised to do it again when he rifled a shot by Talbot to put Pittsburgh in front with Jagr — the NHL’s second all-time leading scorer — watching from a luxury suite.

Yet the Penguins, who have had trouble finding the back of the net all season, couldn’t add on while letting a lead entering the third period get away for the fourth time.

HONORING ’68’

The comeback put a damper on “Jaromir Jagr Day” in Pittsburgh. The 52-year-old kicked off a joyous return to the city where he played the first 11 of his 24 NHL seasons by watching his No. 68 join Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux’s No. 66 and Michel Briere’s No. 21 in the rafters at PPG Paints Arena.

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