Crosby, Pens bounce back

Chris Harlan
| Saturday, March 31, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With a scabbed-over gash on the side of his nose, Sidney Crosby now looks like your typical hockey player, his coach said.

But Crosby played like few others when he scored a goal and added three assists in Friday night's 5-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, allowing the 24-year-old to become the seventh-youngest player in NHL history to reach 600 career points.

Backup goalie Brent Johnson won his first start in five weeks, Evgeni Malkin scored his career-high 48th goal and the Penguins played better than they had when they dropped back-to-back games to the New York Islanders this week.

The victory ended a two-game scoreless streak for Crosby. And it came a night after Crosby took a puck to the face in a loss at the Islanders, a scare that left him bloodied but otherwise healthy.

Coach Dan Bylsma joked yesterday that Crosby's "class picture won't look that good."

"I'm not really getting much air through there right now," Crosby said with a smile. "But other than that, it's pretty good. When you get a puck like that, you never know what's going to happen."

The Sabres, who had won five straight to surge back into playoff contention, probably had that what's-going-to-happen feeling whenever Crosby had the puck last night. He scored on a sharp-angle shot from the right post and assisted on goals by Malkin, James Neal and Steve Sullivan. Crosby has 29 points in 18 games, including 17 in 10 since returning earlier this month.

"His passing is probably as good as anybody in this league," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

The win gave the fourth-place Penguins 102 points and a four-point lead over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference. The Atlantic Division-leading Rangers beat Montreal, 4-1, last night and remain five points ahead. The Penguins and Rangers have four games left; the Flyers have five, starting with a matinee today against Ottawa.

With the score tied at 2 after the first period, Neal and Sullivan scored second-period goals, and Jordan Staal added an empty-netter in the final seconds to escape First Niagara Arena with a victory.

"It was fast," Crosby said. "We wanted to play fast, and they want to, too. ... That was a playoff-style game."

Crosby's four-point night came against a familiar foe: Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, whom Crosby beat for the gold medal-winning overtime goal in the 2010 Winter Olympics. In 14 career games against Miller, he has 22 points.

Miller stopped 29 shots but lost to Johnson, who was making his first start since Feb. 19. In that start, also at Buffalo, Johnson was replaced in the second period. That was his fifth loss in six games, and he left practice four days later in pain.

Now healthy, he allowed two first-period goals but settled down to stop 17 of 18 shots in the final two periods. That included a glove save against Thomas Vanek with 10:10 left that preserved a one-goal lead. He also found and covered a loose puck with 24 seconds left after the Sabres had pulled Miller.


First period

Penguins, 1-0 (3:50): C Evgeni Malkin took a pass from LW Steve Sullivan and fired a shot from the slot. Sabres G Ryan Miller allowed the rebound to fly into the air, and Malkin batted the puck in for his career-high 48th goal.

Sabres, 1-1 (6:35): C Ville Leino bumped G Brent Johnson during a wild scramble in front of the goal, and D Jordan Leopold finished the play by whacking a rebound into the net.

Penguins, 2-1 (12:52): C Sidney Crosby gained possession of the puck near the goal line to Miller's left and bought enough time to fire a bad-angle shot that squirted between his legs.

Sabres, 2-2 (15:45): LW Tyler Ennis skated down the right wing and threw a harmless-looking shot on net that somehow sneaked between Johnson's legs.

Second period

Penguins, 3-2 (11:43): Crosby and Malkin used a give-and-go to enter Buffalo territory before Crosby sent a cross-ice feed to RW James Neal, who buried a shot into the empty cage.

Penguins, 4-2 (15:06): Crosby started a play that ended with the puck floating toward the net. Sullivan redirected it with his back turned to Miller, fooling the goalie to the stick side.

Sabres, 4-3 (16:59): A strange bounce off the glass sent the puck to LW Thomas Vanek, who easily beat Johnson with a backhander after finding himself all alone.

Third period

Penguins, 5-3 (19:55, ENG): C Jordan Staal chased down a loose puck and scored into an empty net.

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