Penguins' Crosby adds overtime winner after scoring 1,000th point against Jets
New sources of stress sprung forth Thursday after the end of the antsy wait at PPG Paints Arena for Sidney Crosby to reach 1,000 career points, but none proved too much for the Penguins' most trusted stars to overcome.
Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury played critical roles in a 4-3 overtime victory over Winnipeg, which erased a two-goal deficit and squandered its own lead late in the third period.
The Penguins' captain came through in the most significant way as he poked a feed from Malkin past Connor Hellebuyck to end the game with 22 seconds left in overtime. His winner capped a performance in which he tallied one goal and two assists to increase his career point total to 1,002.
“You want to finish the right way,” Crosby said. “I think we were probably guilty of trying to just run the clock out and keep the lead and sit back. It's easy to do when you're missing some guys. We had to kind of turn things around there late, but we found a way.”
Malkin scored just 59 seconds after the opening puck drop to spark a crowd that entered the arena eager to celebrate.
Letang finished with two assists and a season-high 31 minutes and seven seconds of ice time to offset the mid-game absences of defensemen Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz, each of whom suffered injuries in the second period after absorbing punishing hits.
Kunitz finished a scoring sequence driven by Crosby six and a half minutes into the first period, helping the captain to his milestone.
And Fleury, in just his third game appearance in a month, finished with a season-high 44 saves, including a few brilliant stops that inspired the crowd to cheer
“After the emotions in the first — two-goal lead, Sid getting his 1,000th point — (Winnipeg) played hard and kept coming at us until the end,” Fleury said. “The guys battled hard to keep it simple and help me out around the net. It was a big win for us.”
How much longer Fleury can refer to the Penguins as “us” has been the topic of much media and fan speculation. But a slew of question about Fleury's future failed to erase the smile from the goalie's face.
“Tough questions tonight, eh?” he said. “I try to enjoy (the game). It was nice. It was a good feeling. Hopefully there are more.”
Coach Mike Sullivan attempted to diffuse the anxiety about whether Thursday represented the last ride together for the Penguins' long-time “core.”
“You guys are getting ahead of yourselves when it comes to that stuff,” Sullivan said. “For me, we're taking each game as it comes. We're going to play each game as it comes. … I thought Marc had a solid game for us, and I thought the guys in front of him played hard.”
The joyous mood at the arena turned as the Jets began to dictate play with unapologetic aggression and physicality at both ends of the ice. They outshot their hosts 16-8 in the third period.
Phil Kessel's power-play goal with 6:05 left in regulation forced overtime.
Dustin Byfuglien put the Jets ahead in front for the first time five minutes earlier, when he snuck a wraparound between Fleury's leg pads.
Byfuglien also initiated Winnipeg's parade of physicality when he crushed Schultz into the glass from behind. Schultz stayed on the ice for more than a minute before he got to his feet and headed to the dressing room.
Maatta followed Schultz down the runway about seven minutes later after he absorbed an open-ice hit from Winnipeg winger Adam Lowry. He did not return.
Sullivan did not have an update on Maatta or Schultz.