Kapanen scores twice; Pens welcome back fans with 5-2 win

Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins’ Mike Matheson (5) tries to control the puck as Philadelphia Flyers’ Travis Konecny (11) and Connor Bunnaman (82) pursue during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The arena wasn’t completely full for Pittsburgh’s game against visiting Philadelphia, yet it felt that way to Penguins forward Kasperi Kapanen.

Kapanen scored two goals and the Penguins defeated the Flyers 5-2 on Tuesday night.

The Penguins won in front of their fans for the first time in almost a year, as state coronavirus restrictions were eased at the beginning of the month and spectators were allowed into the building. Penguins’ players raised their sticks and saluted the fans in attendance following the win.

“It was unbelievable,” Kapanen said. “It’s been a while since we played in front of fans. Even though there were only 2,800, it felt like there was 20,000. It feels like things are kind of going back to normal, so it was fun to see.”

Bryan Rust scored his seventh, and Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson added goals for Pittsburgh, which has won five of its last seven. Ceci’s goal came just 1:08 after Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee’s second goal made it a 3-2 game. Tristan Jarry stopped 40 shots.

The Penguins, who are tied for the most home wins since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, rebounded from one of their worst performances of the season, a shutout loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday.

Farabee scored twice for the Flyers, who had a three-game winning streak halted. Carter Hart made 22 saves for the Flyers.

“I thought mentally we were there,” Farabee said. “I just think the execution was a bit off all over the ice, so we’ve got to regroup.”

As evidence: Hart was heading to the bench for an extra attacker with just under four minutes remaining, when Matheson gained control of the puck just outside his own blue line and shot past a sprawling Hart for the final goal.

Following a scoreless first period, Farabee and Kapanen scored 1:07 apart to open the second period. Farabee finished a give-and-go from Sean Couturier following a Penguins’ turnover at center ice. Kapanen tied the game on an unassisted breakaway.

Couturier established a career-high seven-game point streak with his assist on Farabee’s goal.

Kapanen scored his second goal of the game on the power play at 8:41 of the second and Rust gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead at 10:45 of the period. Rust finished Kris Letang’s point shot from the top of the crease.

PENS WELCOME BACK FANS

The Penguins received approval from Gov. Tom Wolf and the state health department to open PPG Paints Arena to 15% capacity, or 2,800 fans on Tuesday. The Flyers will welcome fans back to the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday against Washington.

Tuesday’s game was the first at PPG Paints Arena with fans since the Penguins hosted the Carolina Hurricanes on March 8, 2020. Fans sat in pockets of no more than four, spaced throughout the lower bowl and half of the upper section of the arena.

The early arriving crowd gave an ovation to Evgeni Malkin, as he left the ice last during pre-game warmups and jeered the cross-state rival Flyers before puck drop.

Giddy fans gave their team a standing ovation when they took the ice and an immediate “Let’s go Pens” chant broke out after the opening faceoff.

“It just creates the environment that we’re all accustomed to … that we’re all longing for,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We haven’t had that in a long time, so to have some fans in the building, I know our players were fired up.”

WHERE’S THE D?

Philadelphia entered Tuesday’s game coming off consecutive shutouts at Buffalo, but a series of defensive lapses helped Pittsburgh gain control in the second period.

The Penguins scored three goals and outshot the Flyers 13-3 to start the second period. Shayne Gostisbehere’s turnover at the Pittsburgh blue line led to Kapanen’s breakaway goal, which tied the game and ended the Flyers’ shutout streak at 160:11.

Kapanen slid the puck past an out-of-position Hart following a slick passing sequence with Rust and Jake Guentzel to put Pittsburgh in front, 2-1. Rust and Guentzel were at the crease, behind three Flyers’ defensemen on Pittsburgh’s third goal.

CROSBY ON COVID-19 LIST

Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby missed Tuesday’s game after he was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list. Penguins’ assistant Todd Reirden was also not available because of coronavirus-related precautions.

Crosby’s 107 points against Philadelphia is more than any other active player and fourth all-time against the Flyers. In his last 13 games against the Flyers, Crosby has nine goals and 23 points.

“Being without a guy like Sid, he’s obviously the engine of this team and he’s an extremely important player,” Rust said. “But everybody had to step up and help bring what he brings and I think we did that.”

UP NEXT

The Penguins and Flyers play again on Thursday and Saturday as part of a current five-game homestand for Pittsburgh. It’s the first time in franchise history the Flyers will play the same opponent in three consecutive games.

Philadelphia will play 17 games in 31 days this month. Pittsburgh will play 12 of 16 games at home in March, tied for the second-most home games in a calendar month in NHL history.

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