TORONTO -- For the second Saturday night in a row, the Pittsburgh Penguins came to Canada, went past regulation and won a high-scoring game.
Prior to the shootout, the capacity crowd, many of whom had come to see Crosby play his first game in Toronto since Jan. 9, 2010, were treated to 65 minutes of thrilling, up-and-down action.
"It's a fun building and a fun atmosphere," Crosby said. "We wouldn't want to let them get back into it if we did it again – they pushed hard, we probably deserved to finish that one off in regulation but they kept coming."
One week earlier, the Penguins played an even more wide-open game in Montreal that ended up in a 7-6 overtime victory.
This time, the Penguins led 4-2 late in the second period, but Clarke MacArthur scored before intermission and Phil Kessel tied it with 4:20 left in regulation. After a scoreless overtime, Neal snapped a shot between the pads of goaltender James Reimer in the first round of the tiebreaker before Crosby ended the game with a high wrister that went just under the crossbar.
"I wanted to come in with some speed and back him off a little," said Neal, said of his shootout winner.
While Neal, a Toronto-area native, was happy to be the hero, he echoed the comments of his captain in saying that he would have liked to have gotten the victory in regulation.
"We are playing a lot more consistently, that is what we need," he said. "We don't like to get into the shootout, back and forth type of game[s], but I think we did a good job tonight."
After allowing four goals on 18 shots in his last start against the Philadelphia Flyers, Fleury saw both positives and negatives in his performance.
"Tonight was better than a few games back," Fleury said. "It was a good team effort. I wasn't happy with a few goals, other than that I think the team played well."
The win may have come at a price. Penguins star Evgeni Malkin left in the third period due to an upper-body injury sustained when he was hit by Toronto's James van Riemsdyk. The team said it's not a head injury and that Malkin was kept out for precautionary reasons.
Dion Phaneuf and Kessel had three points for the Maple Leafs, and Reimer had a solid game with 37 saves.
While none of Reimer's saves were particularly dazzling, he played well technically which was best demonstrated when he was in position to deny Crosby's one-timer near the end of overtime.
Until Kessel's goal got them even, the Maple Leafs had spent most of the night playing catch-up.
Defenseman Cody Franson took advantage of van Riemsdyk screening Fleury and hit the top corner on the stick side at 10:12 of the middle period for a power-play goal to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2. It was Franson's second goal of the season and the second power-play goal of the night for the Maple Leafs.
Pascal Dupuis restored the Penguins' two-goal lead at 13:01, but the Maple Leafs made it a one-goal game again exactly a minute later when MacArthur skated over the Pittsburgh blue line with a burst of speed and ripped a shot past Fleury as Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen backed in on Fleury.
In his first game back since recovering from knee surgery, Matt Frattin recorded an assist on the play. He now has 11 points in 11 games this season; he last played on Feb. 11 against the Philadelphia.
"It was an intense battle, they are a good team, they came out flying," Frattin said. "Luckily we battled back to get that one point which was huge."
The fact the Maple Leafs were able to get a point against one of the NHL's perennial powerhouses seemed to be something they felt they could be proud of.
"It was a good measuring stick for us tonight against one of the top teams," MacArthur said. "It was a great job by us sticking with it - getting back and getting a point. At the end of the day that's what we are out for. It would have been nice to get two but it was good to get the one."
The first period was a wide-open 20 minutes in which the Penguins scored three of the four goals.
Neal scored on the Penguins' first shot on goal, whipping the puck from the high slot past Reimer just 36 seconds after the opening faceoff. It was his 16th of the season, tying him for second in the goal-scoring race.
Toronto tied it at 7:14 with a power-play goal as Van Riemsdyk parked himself at the top of the crease and was able to tip Kessel's shot from the left circle behind Fleury.
But the Pittsburgh took command, at least for a while, on goals by Crosby and Paul Martin.
Crosby buried Letang's rebound off the post to put his team up 2-1 at 14:31. Crosby's 12th goal of the season extended his points streak to seven games, during which he has five goals and 10 assists. He leads the scoring race with 40 points.
In 11 games in Toronto, Crosby has nine goals and six assists.
The Penguins kept pressing and made it 3-1 just 50 seconds later when Martin took a spectacular behind-the-back pass from Malkin and scored his fifth of the season.
Pittsburgh has taken both meetings against the Maple Leafs this season. The Penguins will be back at Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
|James Neal (16) ASST: Matt Niskanen (4), Kris Letang (20)|
1 - 0 PIT
|PPG - James van Riemsdyk (14) ASST: Phil Kessel (15), Dion Phaneuf (9)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Sidney Crosby (12) ASST: Kris Letang (21), Beau Bennett (4)|
2 - 1 PIT
|Paul Martin (5) ASST: James Neal (9), Evgeni Malkin (19)|
3 - 1 PIT
|PPG - Cody Franson (2) ASST: Phil Kessel (16), Dion Phaneuf (10)|
3 - 2 PIT
|Pascal Dupuis (9) ASST: Paul Martin (12), Brooks Orpik (6)|
4 - 2 PIT
|Clarke MacArthur (7) ASST: Dion Phaneuf (11), Matt Frattin (4)|
4 - 3 PIT
|Phil Kessel (7) ASST: Mark Fraser (5), Clarke MacArthur (8)|
4 - 4 Tie
|1||T. Bozak||J. Neal||0 - 1|
|2||N. Kadri||S. Crosby||0 - 2|
|Beau Bennett Hi-sticking against Leo Komarov|
|Korbinian Holzer Holding the stick against Pascal Dupuis|
|Michael Kostka Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Sidney Crosby Tripping against Nazem Kadri|
|Carl Gunnarsson Slashing against Evgeni Malkin|
|Nazem Kadri Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Brooks Orpik Interference against Nikolai Kulemin|