|Sidney Crosby's return to the "State of Hockey" was a successful one as he assisted on three goals and netted the clincher in the Penguins' 4-2 victory over the Wild.
Crosby spent the 2002-03 season at prep powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Minn., scoring 72 goals in 57 games as a 15-year-old – and learning firsthand about the passion Minnesotans have for hockey. In his first game in Minnesota since leaving for junior hockey and then the NHL, Crosby set up three goals and scored the clincher Tuesday night as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Minnesota Wild, 4-2.
Minnesota fans who wanted to see if No. 87 was as good as all the hype had to be impressed – and Crosby was happy to come back to the area where he had been a prep star.
“It’s fun to be able to come here and play,” Crosby said. “No matter how the night ended up, it’s just nice because I was here before, watching games and dreamed of one day playing in the NHL and playing here. It's really a bonus to come out of here with a win.”
Two of Crosby’s assists came on goals by Evgeni Malkin; the other on Petr Sykora’s tie-breaking goal at 10:05 of the third period, when Crosby’s perfect pass set up Sykora alone in the slot for a 15-foot wrist shot past Josh Harding to snap a 2-2 tie.
“Crosby’s line was on fire,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
Therrien’s recent decision to play Malkin, a natural center, with Crosby has jump-started the Penguins offense. Malkin’s English still isn’t very good, but on the ice, he and Crosby seem to have no trouble communicating.
“I think he understands more,” Crosby said of Malkin’s English. “Hockey is a universal language, and he knows where to go. He’s making an effort to learn more.”
It was the eighth time in Crosby’s two-plus NHL seasons that he’s had a four-point game. He also extended his points streak to 10 games.
“We played all three periods,” Crosby said. “This is a tough team to play. We were patient, we waited for our chances and we capitalized on them.”
The Penguins, who came into the game off home losses to Toronto and Montreal, caught the Wild at the right time. Minnesota’s top two forwards, Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, and starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom are all out with groin injuries.
“It’s a huge hole, there’s no question, but we have enough guys in here to get the job done,” Minnesota’s Brian Rolston said. “We were in the game tonight, all the way through it. We just need to be a little bit better.”
Crosby set up the game’s first goal at 3:30 of the second period when he carried the puck into the zone and had it trickle off his stick right to Malkin, who beat Harding with a wraparound.
“It seems like that's been our luck lately,” Harding said. “And the only way you can get through that is hard work. It obviously is very frustrating.”
Stephane Veilleux tied it at 6:14 by cashing in a rebound. But just 25 seconds later, Crosby camped out in front, and Ryan Malone's shot from the point glanced off his skate and onto Malkin's stick. Malkin scored into a wide-open net for a 2-1 lead.
Minnesota tied it again at 6:26 of the third period when Rolston rammed Mikko Koivu’s feed behind Dany Sabourin. But less than four minutes later, Crosby found Sykora for a power-play goal, then gave the Penguins some insurance when he scored on a breakaway at 14:29.
“He's a great leader and he is a great player,” said an impressed Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire. “I don’t know him personally, but I’d love to have one on our club, if they make any more.”
The loss was a disappointment for the Wild, who have dropped four in a row – three losses and a shootout – after starting the season 7-0-1.
“It feels good when you can tie the game in the situation we were in there,” said Koivu. “We couldn’t keep it that way and that’s something we have to learn. Earlier in the season, we’d tie the game and win, but you can’t do that every night. That’s obvious.”
Material from wire services, team media and broadcast media were used in this report