WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – The Jake Guentzel show was on full display on Tuesday night, as the rookie struck three times in the contest for his first career hat trick, leading the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to their seventh-straight win with a 5-3 triumph over the Springfield Thunderbirds at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.
Guentzel not only helped the Penguins (21-5-3-0) maintain the top spot in the entire American Hockey League, but also moved into the league lead in goal-scoring with his 15th, 16th and 17th tallies on the season.
Springfield got out to an early lead thanks to a power play goal from Mackenzie Weegar, who returned to the Thunderbirds’ lineup after a 10-game absence.
Guentzel had the response for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, soaring past the Springfield defense for the breakaway and five-hole finish at 5:43 of the first period.
The Thunderbirds struck again on the man advantage, this time with Tim Bozon doing the honors for a 2-1 lead at 9:18 of the opening frame.
With time dwindling down in the first, Tom Kostopoulos threw a seemingly harmless puck at the Thunderbirds’ crease that took a hop into Springfield goalie Mike McKenna’s chest. McKenna appeared ready to cradle the puck before Guentzel swatted it out of mid-air, knocking it free for a subsequent rebound conversion and 2-2 game with 30.5 seconds remaining in the period.
Guentzel completed the hat trick 1:17 into the second period by redirecting a pass from David Warsofsky during a five-on-three power play, bringing the game to 3-2. And in the blink of an eye, it was 4-2, as Garrett Wilson scored for the third-straight contest 1:04 later.
McKenna kept the Thunderbirds within striking distance as the Penguins continued to storm his crease and throw shot after shot his way. McKenna’s efforts were not in vain, as Weegar wired a shot off both posts and across the goal line to bring Springfield within one of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton late in the middle frame.
The two teams traded power play opportunities and scoring chances in the third period, but the final 20 minutes of regulation were scoreless until Cameron Gaunce sealed the victory with an empty net goal as only 17 seconds were left on the clock.
Tristan Jarry made 20 saves to earn his 13th win of the season, tying him for the most in the AHL. McKenna stopped 35 shots faced in the loss.
Individual game tickets for Friday night’s game and all Penguins home games, are available at the Mohegan Sun Arena box office, online at TicketMaster.com, or by calling 800-745-3000.