ALBANY, N.Y. — The Penguins have flourished on the road against the Albany River Rats in recent years.
That held true again on Sunday as Wilkes-Barre/Scranton stepped up with another gritty effort to sweep a holiday weekend home-and-home series with Albany.
Center Mark Letestu scored his team’s first two goals and assisted on right wing Nick Johnson’s game-winner as the Penguins downed the River Rats 3-2 in an American Hockey League clash at Times Union Center.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (16-14-1-1), which has now won 11 of its past 16 games in Albany, moved into sole possession of third place in the East Division.
“We knew these two games were going to be a tough challenge,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Reirden said. “We knew we had to come ready to work and compete and battle or we weren’t going to have a chance — and we really responded well.”
Boosted by a 2-1 triumph over the River Rats in Wilkes-Barre, the Penguins successfully carried over this momentum against second-place Albany (18-13-1-2).
“We had five days off, which is not quite the norm,” Letestu said. “But I think it was needed, the guys looked recharged, they were ready to go and we’re pretty happy right now taking four points from a team that’s ahead of us.”
Letestu and Johnson scored within a span of 2½ minutes in the third period to propel Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, which had lost four of its previous five games before generating a mini two-game win streak against Albany.
“They have a really good team, a very well coached team — and they play a style where every night they’re a tough opponent,” Reirden said. “I’m not surprised that they’re doing as well as they’re doing this year.
“We just had to stay the course against them. … We’ve played in a lot of one-goal games this year and being in that situation a lot, we’re getting more comfortable playing with the lead.”
With the game tied 1-1 through two periods, Letestu scored the go-ahead goal as he pounced on a rebound and beat Rats goalie Justin Peters at 4:07.
“It was a lot of (me) just floating in the slot,” Letestu said. “Guys were there to get me the puck. (Johnson) made a real nice pass on the first one and on the second one — it was a point shot that just bounced around and found my stick.”
Johnson followed with what proved to be the game winner as he finished off a 2-on-1 breakaway with Letestu, scoring into the wide open right side of the net at 6:39.
“He’s a guy who was a much better player tonight,” Reirden said of Letestu. “Sometimes with skill players and with time away from the rink it shows with players who make plays have more finesse to their game than maybe the blue collar guys. … Our high-end players were able to produce more tonight.”
Albany drew to within 3-2 on rookie left wing Chris Terry’s rebound goal from the slot at 12:41, scoring over outstretched goalie Adam Berkhoel.
“They were a lot different games,” Reirden said. “(Saturday night) was just sloppy, both teams hadn’t played for a long time and you could see it — we had some days away. … For us we need to manage the puck and play a simple game and today there some chances both ways and we were able to convert on ours. And Berkhoel was very solid for us.”
Berkhoel finished with 24 saves to earn the victory, his second in three starts with the Penguins this season.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton also limited Albany’s chances as the Rats managed only 12 shots on goal in the first two periods — including just five in the second.