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Classic Crosby delivers big for Penguins

| Sunday, March 29, 2009

He has played 10 games with the Penguins and 1,170 with seven other NHL teams.

So, yeah, right wing Bill Guerin's opinion counts as qualified on hockey-related subjects — like, say, the "classic" third-period goal Penguins captain Sidney Crosby scored Saturday at Mellon Arena to lift his club past the New York Rangers, 4-3, in a late-season showdown with playoff-seed implications.

"I really haven't seen any other player who can make that play," Guerin said of Crosby's neutral-zone reception of a pass from left wing Ruslan Fedotenko and subsequent dash past two New York defensemen into the Rangers' zone, where he whipped a shot by goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 10:04 remaining.

"In order for teams to stop him in that situation, they're going to have to take a penalty, and they don't want to do that, which gives him the advantage.

"He's extremely explosive. I guess you don't realize how much until you play with him every night. I do now."

Crosby's 29th goal pushed the Penguins (41-27-8, 90 points) farther ahead of the Rangers (39-28-9, 87 points) in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins began yesterday sixth in the East, a point behind fifth-place Carolina and five ahead of ninth-place Florida. Each of those teams played last night.

Also scoring for the Penguins were center Max Talbot (his 11th), and wingers Matt Cooke (10) and Fedotenko (14). The Penguins benefited from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's save on right wing Nik Antropov's point-blank shot with 1:20 remaining.

Fleury, who stopped 26 shots, went 9-1-2 with a 1.87 goals-against average in March. He is 27-3-5 in the month over the past three seasons.

His latest March victory was made possible by Crosby, whose winning goal defenseman Brooks Orpik said "looked like it was something in a video game."

"We get the luxury of watching him every day in practice, and I can't say you ever get used to it. You kind of just watch in amazement."

Rangers coach John Tortorella described Crosby's tally yesterday as "a big goal to beat us" — and perhaps the Penguins' potential Stanley Cup playoff opponents should take notice, as Crosby acknowledged he finally feels healthy heading into a postseason.

He entered the 2007 playoffs, where the Penguins lost in the opening round to Ottawa, with a broken bone in his foot. Still, he scored three goals and recorded five points in five games.

Crosby had not fully recovered from a midseason right high-ankle sprain by the 2008 playoffs. However, he scored six goals and tied for the postseason lead with 27 points as the Penguins came within two victories of the Cup.

His goal yesterday marked his 18th point in 10 games since missing four in a row because of a groin injury.

Various lower-body injuries (groin, knee, ankle) dating to training camp probably will cost Crosby a chance at his second Art Ross Trophy. He is third in the NHL with 97 points — only 10 behind league leader and teammate Evgeni Malkin, who has played in five more games.

Not winning the scoring title is cool, Crosby suggested - especially if his good health helps the Penguins once again play for the Cup.

"I don't know what it is — if it's the tempo we play at now, if I've been forced to skate a little bit more or if I'm more rested," Crosby said of his eight goals and 25 points in 15 games played under interim coach Dan Bylsma.

"I definitely feel like I'm getting from Point A to B a little bit quicker. This is real encouraging. It makes a big difference."

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