Crosby spearheads Penguins’ improbable charge in overtime victory over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. — With about five minutes left in Saturday night’s game, the Penguins looked like they were headed for a lost weekend in Florida.
They were trailing a red-hot Panthers team by two goals, having lost in Tampa the night before, and surely had to fear they would land in Pittsburgh with no more points in the standings than they left with Thursday.
In dramatic fashion, Sidney Crosby put those fears to rest.
Crosby had a goal and an assist in the final 5:04 of regulation, then set up Kris Letang for the winning goal in overtime to give the Penguins an improbable 3-2 victory.
It was a tour de force performance on par with any Crosby had turned in previously this season — perhaps even in his storied career.
“We say that every season when he’s got a streak or something going,” Letang said. “In my mind, he’s the best player in the world. There’s no doubt about it.”
Letang is no slouch himself. The Penguins defenseman teamed up with Crosby on all three late goals the Penguins scored and has been a driving force in a resurgence that has seen the team win five of its past six games and move ahead of the New York Islanders into the third and final guaranteed playoff berth in the Metropolitan Division.
“It’s hard to match the way he’s playing right now,” Crosby said.
“Offensively, defensively, the way he’s skating, he’s all over the ice and he’s doing it all game long.”
Entering the third period down 1-0, the Penguins gave up a potentially back-breaking short-handed goal for the second straight night. With the Penguins on the power play, Jussi Jokinen fed Alexander Barkov for a breakaway, and the Panthers led 2-0 with 11:45 to play.
“That’s a circumstance we’d like to avoid moving forward,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
It didn’t cost the Penguins, though.
With 5:04 left, Crosby gathered a puck on the right wall and set up Letang for a one-timer from the left hash marks that made it 2-1.
It was the 900th point of Crosby’s career. He became the 106th player in NHL history, the 13th active player and the third player in Penguins history to hit the milestone.
Crosby is the 10th-fastest player to accrue 900 points in league history, recording them in 677 games.
“I thought when we got that first one, the way we were going, we were going to get our chances,” Crosby said. “We were going to get a crack at it.”
With 1:15 to go, Letang took a shot from the left point that hit Crosby in the knee and shaft of his stick before bouncing off goalie Roberto Luongo and trickling over the goal line.
The winning goal came on the power play. Crosby made a pass from the goal line to Letang at the bottom of the left faceoff circle for a one-timer at 1:27 of overtime.
“Those two guys, I thought, put the team on their backs tonight,” Sullivan said. “They raised their level at a critical time in the game.”
The Penguins were outshot 20-9 in the first period and fell behind 1-0 on a power-play goal by Jokinen about six minutes into the second.
Jeff Zatkoff, making his second start of 2016, kept the Penguins within one goal for most of the night, turning in a 40-save bounce-back performance after subpar showings in two of his previous five appearances.
“He played a great game,” Letang said. “He’s a great goaltender. In the room, he’s always a guy that has a positive attitude and when he gets in there, he gets the job done.”