Sidney Crosby is already the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He's already a Stanley Cup champion. Now he's poised to shatter his previous career high for goals in a season.
Crosby recorded his third hat trick of the season Monday night, rallying the Penguins from a two-goal deficit to a 5-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres at Mellon Arena.
''We were down by two goals and they're a good team, but nobody quit and everybody played hard,'' said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 30 saves.
The three goals gave Crosby 37 for the season, tying him with San Jose's Patrick Marleau for the NHL lead. The total is also just two shy of the 39 he scored during his rookie season in 2005-06, which stands at his best single-season total. On his current pace, Crosby would score 54 goals this season.
"I don't know if he's getting better, but he's taking advantage of the opportunities we gave him," Sabres forward Tim Kennedy said. "When you give a guy an open net and give a guy a 2-on-1 and then a power play, guys like that aren't going to miss those opportunities. That's on us. He is one of the best players in the game, but I think that we gave him a lot."
Mark Letestu also scored his first NHL goal and Jordan Staal had the other tally for the Penguins, who tied the Sabres with 71 points and are just one behind the Devils for the Atlantic Division lead.
Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Kennedy all scored to give Buffalo a 3-1 lead midway through the second. Jason Pominville added a late power-play goal, and the Sabres had an opportunity to tie when Brooks Oprik was sent off for holding with 2:04 left, but couldn't get the tying goal past Fleury.
Crosby started the Pittsburgh comeback with a power-play goal 10:53 into the second. He took an Alex Goligoski feed and ripped a shot past Ryan Miller from the top of the right circle. Staal, who played in his 277th consecutive game, tying him for second on the all-time franchise list, tied the score at 14:06 with a wrist shot that deflected off Miller's right arm.
Crosby then went back to work, scoring the go-ahead goal at 17:30 after Miller tried to play the puck from behind the net and watched as it deflected off the skates of defenseman Tyler Myers. Crosby picked it up and sent a shot that went off Miller and trickled over the goal line.
Crosby completed the hat trick just 1:25 later, bearing down on Miller on a 2-on-1 with Pascal Dupuis and using several dekes before scoring on a wrist shot to bring the shower of hats down from the stands.
"We made some good plays. We had an odd-man rush, we had a good bounce off the skate and he (Miller) isn't able to get back in the net (on one goal)," Crosby said. "If you look at the goals, you can't really fault him on a lot. There were some really nice plays made there. I don't think we tried anything different (against him), we always try to get second chances and that's tough for anybody."
Letestu, playing in his fifth NHL game, needed all of 47 seconds to get the Penguins on the board in the first period.
But the Sabres stormed back after that, as Roy netted a power-play goal at 5:15 and Vanek gave them the lead 48 seconds later. Kennedy finished off a three-way passing play with Mike Grier and Clarke MacArthur at 7:32 of the second for a 3-1 lead.
Pominville made it 5-4 with three minutes remaining, but the Sabres lost for the first time in three games.
"When you have a two-goal lead, you play a tighter game than that," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "You don't hand them those opportunities."
Material from wire services was used in this report.