Penguins’ Depth Leads the Way in ‘Biggest Game of Year’

Johnson picks up first point, Cullen and Wilson score in win

Josh Rowntree
March 31, 2019 - 9:55 pm
Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) reacts to being named first star of the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PPG PAINTS Arena. Pittsburgh won 3-1.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Related: Penguins Inch Closer To Playoff Spot, Top Hurricanes 3-1

Penguins rookie Adam Johnson picked up his first career NHL point on a prototypical fourth line goal. On the same play, his center, Matt Cullen, a 21-year veteran, snagged his 730th point. 

The goal, scored by the other winger, Garrett Wilson, was just his second of the year and provided the Penguins a much needed early lift in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 win over Carolina at PPG Paints Arena Sunday evening. 

But the fourth line was not done there. Minutes later, Johnson helped create a turnover, and found Cullen, who snuck a west shot in for a 2-0 lead. 

“It was great,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve been playing well on the forecheck, getting some chances. It was nice to get a couple to go in and help the team win.

“It’s pretty cool playing with Cullen. He’s a great veteran guy, a great leader. He helps me out a lot and he’s made the transition to this League a lot easier.”

The transition seems to be going just fine, as it helped the Penguins snag a win in, as winger Patric Hornqvist put it, “the biggest game of the year, by far… so far.”

“Going into today, even in the room, it had a playoff feel,” Cullen said of the game, in which Carolina entered just two points behind the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division standings. “We sat yesterday and watched everybody that we’re battling with win and we’re sitting here, after a loss, seeing the gap close. 

“We had a playoff feel in here, which is good, and the energy in the building was great. It was a big game for our team and a huge two points.”

Coupled with Matt Murray’s stellar play, yet again, the fourth line’s first period tallies ended up being all the Penguins needed. 

“Any time we can chip in is huge,” Wilson said. “It helps a lot. It takes a little bit of the load off the big guys. It got us going here tonight and gave us a little bit of a cushion. It was nice to get those two in the first.”

“It’s important to get depth scoring, obviously,” Cullen added. “These are tight games and if we can get four lines going, it’s important for us and it’s important every night.”

Johnson’s addition brings an element of quickness to the game that the Penguins have not had as much of since the back-to-back Stanley Cup wins. 

“Adding (Johnson) has been huge,” said Wilson. “He adds a lot of speed and it really helps me and Cullen out coming in on the forecheck and getting pucks back. He’s been a great help and we’re playing well right now. We’ve got to keep it going this last little bit.”

“I’ve been just so happy with him on the wing and so happy for him,” added Cullen, who has scoring twice in the last three games following a 27-game drought. “He’s a great kid, he’s earned everything he’s gotten. He’s got that dynamic and he’s so good at getting in on pucks and helping us go from defense to offense. He’s a fun player to watch and it’s exciting to see him playing at the level that he can. He adds a dimension to our line, and just to our entire lineup, of speed and that’s important to us.”

Johnson, meanwhile, who has played in five games now with the Penguins, is trying to stick with the NHL squad. He appears to be impressing the right people.

“Adam Johnson has quietly done a nice job,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He brings some speed, he gets in on the forecheck, he creates some turnovers, he’s responsible defensively. That’s what we’re asking of that line.

“They just play with so much energy. Their care factor, their try factor, they’re all competitive guys.”

Hear all of what Mike Sullivan said after the Penguins’ 3-1 win over the Hurricanes below.