PITTSBURGH (AP) — The last two weeks were difficult for Pittsburgh Penguins forward Kasperi Kapanen, as he watched from the press box.
The last two games have been rewarding for Kapanen and the Penguins.
Kapanen scored his second career hat trick and the Penguins beat the St. Louis Blues 6-2 on Saturday night.
“It hasn’t been the easiest month or so, but I’m happy to be out there playing games and winning,” Kapanen said.
Kapanen was floated in and out of the lineup for inconsistent play in nine of 10 games recently. But he responded with the game-winner on Thursday against Vegas and then his first hat trick since Nov. 6, 2021, during a home game against Minnesota.
“We’re thrilled for him,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “Obviously, it’s not an easy experience when you’re out of the lineup. But I think (Kapanen) has responded unbelievably well and we’re certainly thrilled for him.”
Bryan Rust had a goal and three assists, Jason Zucker had a goal and two assists, Sidney Crosby also scored and Evgeni Malkin added three assists to help the Penguins win their second straight and seventh in the last nine. Tristan Jarry stopped 26 shots for the Penguins, who are 9-2-2 in their last 13.
Pavel Buchnevich and Vladimir Tarasenko scored for the Blues, who have lost three straight and five of six after a seven-game win streak. Jordan Binnington gave up four goals on 17 shots before being pulled in the opening minute of the second period. Thomas Greiss had 19 saves in relief.
St. Louis was without Jordan Kyrou, who leads the team with nine goals, due to an illness.
Pittsburgh got off to a strong start, scored three times in the first period as the Blues allowed three goals in a period for the sixth straight game and the 14th time this season.
“It’s not good enough,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Until more guys step up and play better, and we start pulling together as a team, it won’t change.”
Kapanen opened the scoring at 6:58, just seconds after a Pittsburgh power play expired. A point shot hit his skate and then bounced off Binnington for the goal.
Rust added to Pittsburgh’s lead with his sixth at 11:59 after coming in with one goal in his previous 14 games.
Buchnevich made it 2-1 just 48 seconds later as he took a cross-ice point pass from Nick Leddy and beat Jarry to the short side with a one-timer from the far wall for his eighth.
Kapanen scored his second of the game to make it 3-1 with 3:05 left in the first. He took a spinning feed from Malkin and converted from the top of the crease with 1 second left on a Pittsburgh power play.
Pittsburgh was 27th on the power play entering the game with a recent 0-for-17 drought. But the Penguins scored with the man advantage in consecutive games for the first time since late October.
Zucker gave Pittsburgh a 4-1 lead just 1:51 into the second period. At the end of the first, Binnington clipped Zucker in the face with his glove while he circled the net. However, Zucker chased Binnington from the game when he beat him with a wrist shot from the left circle for his sixth.
Tarasenko scored on a breakaway at 8:22 of the second to pull the Blues within two. However, Kapanen finished off his hat trick a little more than two minutes later on a backdoor feed from Rust for his fifth of the season.
“That might have been the easiest hat trick in history, just going to the back post and kind of tapping them in,” Kapanen said.
Blues: At the New York Rangers on Monday night in the middle game of a three-game trip.
Penguins: Host Columbus on Tuesday night to close a five-game homestand.