PITTSBURGH— This might be Blues goalie Brian Elliott's best "stop" of the season. He halted Sidney Crosby & Co. one game into The Kid's long-awaited comeback.
Alex Pietrangelo threw a backhander past Marc-Andre Fleury in the final minute of overtime and St. Louis twice rallied after conceding goals to Pittsburgh during a hard-earned 3-2 victory Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center.
Led by Elliott, the Blues kept Crosby – who had four points against the Islanders on Monday – scoreless in his second game back following a 10-month injury layoff.
How rare is that? Last season, Crosby was held without a point only four times over 38 games prior concussion that sidelined him until this week. At this time a year ago, he was in the middle of a 25-game scoring streak, the NHL's longest in nearly two decades.
"I had a couple of chances and bobbled one and missed a pass with another," Crosby said. "And just whether it was rust or not being ready or focused, whatever it was, that's not good enough."
Crosby doesn't have a goal in six games against St. Louis, the most he has played against one opponent without scoring. He has netted against all but four NHL teams.
Crosby's stat line: 0 goals, 0 assists, 2 shots and 3 – count ‘em, 3 – penalties, plus numerous skirmishes in which he either threw a check or fended one off during a physical, and often feisty, game. So much for any thought that Crosby, given his injury, would try to avoid any unnecessary contact.
The Blues played new coach Ken Hitchcock's shutdown defense to perfection during two shutout periods, weathered two goals during an up-tempo third period and kept pressing before winning it in the overtime.
"We played the two best periods we've played all year, did everything we needed to do except extend the lead, then we were in a track meet in the third period," Hitchcock said. "They've got energy and they're coming at us. But to play this well and this hard, it would have been disappointing to not get two points."
They got them, too, beating Pittsburgh in overtime for the second time in as many games dating to last season.
Pietrangelo won it with his third goal, shedding Penguins forward Jordan Staal on his way to the net and flipping a perfectly placed pass from Vladimir Sobotka past Fleury at 4:07 of overtime.
"I was just trying to create some movement from the blue line, just circling in the zone. Dags (Matt D'Agostini) came out and told me to go in and Staal kind of got confused," Pietrangelo said. "It was a great pass by Silvy (Sobotka) and I got Fleury coming across. It was a good one."
St. Louis is 2-2 in overtime and Pittsburgh, its six-game home ice winning streak halted, is 3-4.
Elliott, virtually unbeatable so far this season while going 8-1-0, turned aside 31 of 33 shots by a Penguins team that has taken at least 32 shots for an 11th consecutive game – despite being held to just four in the first period.
"You have to play him (Crosby) honestly like anybody else and be aware when he's on the ice, but play the same way – hard – on everybody," Elliott said. "He didn't really get too many opportunities."
Crosby's second game in three nights was nothing like his triumphant return from a 10-month concussion layoff – his two-goal, four-point night as the Penguins manhandled the Islanders 5-0 on Monday night.
Then again, the Blues – 5-2-1 since Hitchcock took over as coach – looked nothing like a team playing its second tight game in as many nights in two time zones. They were beaten 3-2 at home by the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, then responded with a gritty, physical effort in an arena where the Penguins had gone 7-1-1 this season.
As motivated and energetic as they were in Crosby's comeback game, the Penguins were equally flat and careless for the first two periods. They were outshot 13-4 in the first period – Crosby himself had that many shots in that period Monday – and 26-14 in the first two.
"The first two periods weren't good," Crosby said. "There's no real explanation or excuses. I think we were outplayed and the third we were much more desperate, but we didn't deserve that one."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma mixed up his lines all night in an effort to find a combination that could generate some scoring chances.
"We didn't have a lot of what they had," Bylsma said. "They had a lot of jump, they won a lot of the puck battles and they executed and had the right mentality going over the boards. We didn't have that. We didn't have any jump in our step."
The Penguins, who had outscored their opponents 24-8 while winning their last six at home, finally showed some life after they killed off Tyler Kennedy's hooking penalty early in the third. Kennedy came out of the box and dropped a pass to Evgeni Malkin, who fed the puck to Steve Sullivan for a slap shot from the right point at 3:03 of the third.
Sullivan's second goal in as many games and third this season awakened a standing room crowd of 18,583 – a total that included the 25th million fan to attend a Penguins home game – and immediately sped up the flow of the game.
Still, the Blues regained the lead midway through the period when Jamie Langenbrunner collected Chris Stewart's rebound and wristed it home from short range near the edge of the crease. Fleury, 8-1-2 in his last 11 games, made 40 saves.
Pittsburgh came back again when James Neal tied it at 14:09 with his 13th goal – and 11th at home – following a sequence in which he twice whacked at the puck from the right side of the net, then crossed over to the other side and one-timed a Malkin pass past Elliott. The goalie came in with an NHL-leading 1.43 goals-against average.
The only goal in the first two periods came from Scott Nichol, who scored his first in more than 11 months following a Pittsburgh giveaway, a common occurrence on a night the Penguins were sloppy rather than stylish. After intercepting Paul Martin's pass, Nichol took a slap shot that deflected off Martin and into the net at 5:23 of the first.