NEWARK, NJ — We doubt that the latest jaw-dropping play crafted by the hands of Sidney Crosby was done with Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season in mind, but…should we ever doubt anything as it pertains to 87 and his impeccable sense of timing?
Crosby earned the Penguins two crucial points after batting a puck out of the air into the net following a save on his first breakaway attempt on goal a split second earlier as Pittsburgh defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in overtime on Thursday evening at the Prudential Center. The win kept the Penguins in second place in the Metropolitan Division, climbing up to 94 points with just four games remaining.
Pittsburgh fought back from a one-goal deficit in the third period to force the extra session and, just 19 seconds into overtime, Crosby broke in all alone on Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid. His first shot was stopped by Kinkaid.
Almost like Babe Ruth, Crosby called his next shot, and his swing of the stick on the rebound sent the Penguins to victory.
“I’ve seen him do it so many times, it doesn’t surprise us anymore,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s an elite player. There aren’t too many guys that can make those types of plays. He does it time and time again. He thinks the game on such a high level. He’s such a competitor. I don’t think I can count how many times he’s scored since I’ve been his coach [by] knocking pucks out of the air. Sometimes it’s from below the goal line, sometimes it’s from beside the net. He’s such a creative player.”
Pittsburgh was able to tie the game in the third with the help of a fortunate bounce, as a Patric Hornqvist hopeful attempt on goal from the blue line fluttered before it hit the post, then bounced off the back of Kinkaid’s skate and into the net to tie the game at 3-3 at 11:26 of the third period. The Penguins, after conceding the first goal of the game on a shot by Kyle Palmieri in the first period, tied the game just 25 seconds later on a tally from Conor Sheary.
“I thought we played hard,” Sullivan said. “That’s a good team we played against. It was a hard-fought game, a close game. It was one of those games that has playoff-type feel to it. There’s not a lot of ice out there. It was a stingy game that way.
“The reality is, sometimes things don’t go your way out there,” Sullivan continued. “And it’s about how you respond, and I thought our guys, for the most part, did a good job tonight.”
New Jersey responded after a Kris Letang goal off of a turnover gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead at the 6:59 mark of the second. On the power play, defenseman Will Butcher stopped a Penguins clearing attempt from leaving the Pittsburgh zone on the left point, then found Taylor Hall, whose wrist shot ricocheted off the far post and in behind Pittsburgh goalkeeper Matt Murray to tie the game at 14:41 of the second.
The game was deadlocked at 2-2 at the second intermission and, early in the third, Blake Coleman scored at 5:11 to give New Jersey its second lead of the game at 3-2. Just over six minutes later, Hornqvist’s hopeful shot at goal pinballed in past Kinkaid, setting up what would be a frantic final 10 minutes of the game.
The result of the game probably could have been predicted after the teams went into the third period tied, as New Jersey now sports the worst record in the National Hockey League in games tied after two periods at 4-6-4. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, now owns a 17-6-1 record in that same scenario, the best record in the league.
“We definitely wanted two points,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “I think that both teams deserved points out of the game…For us, I’m really glad, for the most part, at how we played tonight. For our group, it’s important. You have to learn lessons through winning, you have to learn lessons from gathering points. This is a great game for us to extract some things and really become a better team from this game.”
The point New Jersey earned proved to be crucial given that their closest pursuer for the second wild card spot, the Florida Panthers, also lost in overtime to the Ottawa Senators later in the evening. The Devils now have 89 points with five games remaining, while Florida remains three points behind but also has one game in hand.