The Pittsburgh Penguins couldn't have scripted their last regular-season game at Mellon Arena a whole lot better.
After bringing out more than 50 of the players who've called it home since the Pens entered the NHL in 1967 in a pregame ceremony, the reigning Stanley Cup champions lit up the scoreboard against the New York Islanders. Sidney Crosby scored his 49th goal -- and nearly his 50th -- and added three assists as the Penguins rolled to a 7-3 victory on Thursday night.
Crosby scored his 49th on a wrister at 19:02 of the first period. It looked like he had become a 50-goal scorer for the first time in his career at 14:34 of the second when his power-play slapper from the top of the right circle went past Dwayne Roloson. But after the game, the goal was changed to Bill Guerin, who deflected the shot into the net.
"I thought right away when I shot it, I thought it hit Billy's (Guerin) leg or hand. Obviously, I asked him right after and he said it did go off his pants," Crosby said. "It would have been great to be able to get it here, but at the end of the day goals go to guys that deserve them and he deserved that one."
Crosby did get the 500th point of his career in his 369th game -- making him the third-yougest player to reach the 500-point mark, four games faster than Alex Ovechkin. The only players to get to 500 points at a younger age than Sid the Kid (22 years, 244 days) were The Great One (Wayne Gretzky; 21 years, 52 days) and Mario the Magnificent (Mario Lemieux; 22 years, 172 days).
"It's one of those numbers," Crosby said. "It's a nice accomplishment. You don't think about those things a lot."
Bylsma said his team was revved-up after the pregame ceremonies.
"We definitely had a lot of emotions from the event, the building and the alumni being on the ice," he said. "I know it was a long period of time introducing everybody, but the guys were real jacked up to see everyone walk by our bench, say hello to them and have that picture (of the Pens' alumni) at center ice. It carried over to the drop of the puck."
Crosby leads Ovechkin and Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos by one goal in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, given to the NHL leader in goals. All three have two games remaining.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots for Pittsburgh and had to be good on a night that saw the Penguins' defense give up a lot of excellent chances.
To make it a perfect night for the Penguins, Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey lost 3-2 at Florida -- meaning that both teams have 46 wins and 99 points with two games remaining. The Penguins need to finish ahead of the Devils to win the division because New Jersey swept the season series. The win did assure the Penguins of finishing no worse than fourth in the East -- locking up home ice in the opening round.
The Islanders had their three-game winning streak ended.
"They have guys that can bury their chances, and giving up four goals in the first period is a rough road to come back from," Isles coach Scott Gordon said.
The Penguins got off to a fast start when Brooks Orpik's wrister from the left point went through traffic and past Martin Biron just 21 seconds into the game. Alex Goligoski made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 5:01, beating Biron from well inside the left circle.
The Islanders got back into the game briefly on Matt Moulson's power-play deflection at 8:29. But Evgeni Malkin got his sixth goal in five games against the Isles this season when he beat Biron on a breakaway at 15:15.
New York got within a goal again at 17:08 when Kyle Okposo beat Marc-Andre Fleury on a wrister from the slot. Crosby's first of the night made it 4-2 after one period.
With Dwayne Roloson replacing Biron in net to start the second period, the Islanders came out energized and got within a goal again on Josh Bailey's deflection of Mark Streit's slapper at 6:49. Only Fleury's goaltending kept the Isles from getting even -- his best save of the period came when he robbed Frans Nielsen on a second rebound while on his back.
Guerin's goal gave the Penguins some breathing room, and Tyler Kennedy beat Roloson with a blast from the top of the left circle at 16:41 for a 6-3 lead. Guerin, who reached the 20-goal mark for the 13th time in his career when he was credited with the second-period goal, got No. 21 at 1:46 into the third period to complete the scoring.
That was more than enough to wrap up the Penguins' 858th and last regular-season victory in the only place they've ever called home -- they will move across the street to the Consol Energy Center for the 2010-11 season.
Many of the former Penguins were at the morning skate, and the current Penguins watched from the bench when videos of past highlights -- and old team commercials -- were shown on the arena scoreboard.
"A lot of them (former players) were so excited to be here, it's kind of an excited family," Crosby said. "We've all played for this team and to share this night together and get a big win like we did, that's special, that's the way you want to remember it."
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