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Penguins’ slump continues as Devils get hat trick from Boyle

November 30, 2018

Late in the second period Monday night, Patric Hornqvist delivered a cross-check to the chest and glove punch to the face of Ben Lovejoy, knocking the affable defenseman to the ice.

A few minutes later, the target of Hornqvist’s ire was mild-mannered Sami Vatanen, who took a stick to the neck before referees intervened.

Frustration is mounting for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It can be measured in the bruises on the torsos of opposing players. It can be measured on the scoreboard, too.

Brian Boyle scored a hat trick, leading the New Jersey Devils to a 5-1 victory over the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.

The Penguins have lost four in a row for the third time in coach Mike Sullivan’s tenure.

“Right now, everything is kind of frustrating,” Hornqvist said. “It doesn’t go the way anyone wanted. We have high expectations on ourselves and on our teammates and everything, and no one’s playing up to those expectations right now.”

Boyle’s performance was a heart-warming story. The 6-foot-6 forward, who has made a successful comeback from leukemia, recorded the first three-goal game of his career as the Penguins observed Hockey Fights Cancer night.

The uplifting tale stood in stark contrast to the demeanor of the Penguins, who fell to 2-4-1 at home.

“We have a great team here,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “I fully believe we’re going to correct it. Not a doubt in my mind about that. It’s just going into games and wanting to embrace having a hard game, maybe winning a game 2-1, embracing battling in the corner and all those things.”

The Penguins fell behind 2-1 in the first period when the Devils took advantage of the kind of bounces teams enjoy when they’re doing what it takes to spend time in the offensive zone.

A Joey Anderson shot from the bottom of the right circle deflected straight to Will Butcher at the left faceoff dot for one goal.

A wraparound bid at the left post by ex-Penguins center Jean-Sebastien Dea caromed to the right point for a Lovejoy shot and a Boyle tip for another goal.

“It just seems like that’s how it’s going right now,” Sullivan said. “We have what it takes to recover. We have the firepower to come back. We’ve shown that time and time again. We’d obviously like to start better. We’d like to grab the momentum right away. That wasn’t the case tonight.”

From there, the Penguins were chasing.

They forced passes.

They took penalties, which led to a pair of power-play goals by Boyle.

They were a step behind the rest of the game.

“We’re chasing games,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s easy for teams to play on their toes when they have a two- and three-goal cushion. You’d probably say the same thing about us when we have a two- or three-goal lead. We’re aggressive. We’re on our toes. We look fast.”

After a 5-0 loss to Toronto on Saturday, Sullivan stewed over his team’s performance, and the players were up in arms.

Now that the losing streak has hit four games, anger has given way to acceptance that they’re in a hole and need to climb out of it.

“When it’s like this, it feels like every mistake you make ends up in your net, and it’s easy for them to pile on and kind of chase it,” Crosby said. “We have to go into the next game with the mentality that we’re going to outwork the other team. As long as we do that, then we give ourselves a chance.”

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