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Drive to the Net: ‘Amazing’ firsts for two rookies ☕


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Sam Lafferty is congratulated on his first NHL goal by Brian Dumoulin and Jared McCann in the third period Saturday in St. Paul, Minn. - AP

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- All their lives, Adam Johnson and Sam Lafferty, one born here in Minnesota, the other back home in Western Pennsylvania, had envisioned how their first NHL goals would play out. And almost all such scenarios, no doubt, involved burying that puck behind an actual goaltender.

"Ha!" Lafferty would exclaim when I mentioned this. "Yeah, they definitely did."

Funny, but no one was complaining both rookies broke through to help the Penguins rout the Wild, 7-4, Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, Johnson with his first goal and a primary assist, Lafferty with his first goal, a primary assist and another assist. All while manning a highly effective fourth line, along with another goal-scorer, Joseph Blandisi.

Johnson's came at 11:11 of the second period and brought a 3-1 lead:

The initial burst Johnson put forth through the neutral zone might have made the sequence, as it backed off the Minnesota blue line and afforded Zach Aston-Reese the chance to size up the scene from center, an uncommon vantage point for him. Lafferty, who would get his first NHL point on the play, came with speed, too, so the dish sustained the rush and brought Devan Dubnyk -- who might or might not still have been rattled by his dust-up with Patric Hornqvist a couple minutes earlier -- way out to take away the angle.

Dubnyk didn't do much with the rebound, though, and it made its way to Johnson's waiting blade.

Waiting, as in, he's 25 years old, and he's been waiting a long while for this chance. This was his seventh NHL game, and he'd already been up and down to Wilkes-Barre enough to know every milepost on Interstate 80.

So, I asked, when he saw ... all ... that ... net ...

"Just kind of blacked out a little bit," he'd say. Which was awesome.

Almost as awesome, he hails from Grand Rapids, Minn., and had what he estimated to be "20 or 30" family and friends in the building sharing the moment with him.

This was the assist, to fellow newcomer Blandisi, on a trademark Johnson forecheck in that he's so fast he arrives there too early for it be considered a real forecheck:

Lafferty's assists came on those, and it might have been presumed he and Johnson would have to carve up Johnson's goal puck until Lafferty got one of his own. It came with 1:11 left in regulation, with Mike Sullivan trusting Lafferty for a defensive-zone draw, the puck squeezing out his way and ... boom! ... what's that, 170 feet dead-center?

"It was kind of surprising when I looked up and had a clear line," Lafferty recalled. "So I decided I'd take it."

Of the feeling, he added, "It was amazing. Just amazing."

Of the coaching staff's trust there, "Yeah, definitely feels good. Hopefully, I can keep earning that."

If they all could keep doing that, the Penguins would be so much healthier for it. Particularly now when they're, you know, not healthy.

"Our fourth line gets three goals tonight, but they did more than that," Sullivan would say. "They can all skate. They defended hard. They helped us get momentum on the forecheck. We put them in some defensive situations. And when they can do that, we can use Crosby's line in offensive situations that are more advantageous to us."

I asked all involved, and their pregame talk -- meaning just among the players populating the third and fourth lines -- had much to do with providing scoring depth, with making real, tangible contributions.

Lafferty spoke about this:

Oh, one other thing those two NHL first goals had in common: Both players planned to pass those precious pucks along to their parents.

Only one fireman's hat, though:

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