Despite an arduous day of travel, the Pittsburgh Penguins took their European road show to its latest stop and delivered the performance everyone hoped to see, defeating Jokerit 4-1 Thursday night.
The sell-out crowd that jammed Hartwall Arena saw consistent flashes of the potent offense that carried the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final this past June.
The fact that it was the Penguins stars -- particularly Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin -- that carried the show was even more pleasing to the rabid Finnish hockey fans. Crosby had 3 assists on the night, including an incredible pass to Ruslan Fedotenko for the game's second goal.
"It was a good experience for our team playing in Finland and good to get a win heading into the weekend," said Crosby.
After the game, the Finnish media swarmed Crosby in the dressing room, and Fedotenko was asked if he was miffed that he scored the game-winning goal and was virtually ignored.
"Did you see those passes," he told NHL.com, his eyes lighting up. "That's why they are all talking to him."
Crosby's goal-making pass probably was the singular moment most fans will take from the evening.
Skating along the goal line, Crosby deked one way before firing a pass across his body to hit Fedotenko cruising into the slot. Fedotenko had little to do other than flick his wrists to get the goal.
"It was an amazing play," Fedotenko said. "The guy was on me and Sid was able to make another move and then make a perfect pass there."
That gave Crosby 2 assists in the first period, and he added a third on an empty-net goal by Pascal Dupuis in the final seconds. He would have had a fourth if another Fedotenko goal wasn't waved off.
It was the type of performance the fans were hoping for from the game's biggest superstar.
Lauri Kakko, a 26-year-old plastics manufacturer, skipped work to be on hand, traveling the 100 kilometers from his home in Lahti for the game. He was joined by his sister, Elina, 28.
And why did Lauri Kakko, who was sporting a black Crosby jersey, make the trip to Hartwall?
"Because Crosby is a hockey god," he told NHL.com in halting English.
Crosby's performance, as well as that of all the Penguins, was extra special considering the Penguins had practiced in Stockholm on Thursday morning before bussing to the airport in the afternoon for the 45-minute flight to Helsinki, arriving at the arena about 2½ hours before faceoff.
While Crosby was the main attraction, there were plenty of other highlights from the game.
Malkin scored the opening goal on a first-period power-play shot from the point -- a position he will occupy this season with defenseman Sergei Gonchar out long-term with a shoulder injury. Tyler Kennedy scored an insurance goal on a sweet pass from Finn Janne Pesonen, and then Crosby set up Dupuis' empty-net goal.
Pesonen was a special story on this night. A native son, he was placed in the starting lineup, playing aside Malkin and Jordan Staal. That honor was celebrated upon its announcement by raucous cheers from the crowd that equaled those received by Malkin in the introduction of the starting lineup. Pesonen's name also was chanted regularly throughout the game.
"I thought they were chanting, 'Let's Go Pens,'" he said, adding that it was special to get on the score sheet before a Finnish crowd.
Pesonen, fighting for the final spot on the Penguins' roster, became a hero in Finland for his play with Karpat during the past two seasons. He led the SM Liga in scoring last season before jumping to Pittsburgh.
Jasmin Kaikusalo, an 18-year-old from Helsinki, also was among the early arrivals Thursday. She, too, wanted to see Crosby, but also was excited about Pesonen's return to Finland.
"Janne Pesonen is my little sister's hero and she could not be here because she could not get a ticket," said Kaikusalo, who was joined by Minttu Tuominen, also 18. Both went straight from school to Hartwell Arena.
None of the Crosby fans were disappointed Thursday, as clearly he was the best player on the ice, creating several scoring chances for his linemates.
On the opening goal, Crosby found Malkin at the point. Malkin's rising shot threaded its way through a maze of bodies in front of the Jokerit goal before sneaking under the cross bar. Crosby earned the secondary assist.
Fedotenko, imported from the New York Islanders this summer and a candidate to play first-line minutes, helped his cause with his goal, which came with just 10 seconds left in the first period to give the visitors a 2-0 lead.
The Finnish fans lapped up every second of the performance -- even if it much of it was coming at the expense of the home club.
When Malkin scored the game-opening goal, even the most loyal Jokerit supporters clapped. Those with no allegiance to the Helsinki team -- and there were many in the building -- cheered wildly as the Penguins celebrated the goal.
The hard-core home fans tried vainly to arouse support for Jokerit, especially when the home team carried a little more of the play in the second period. It was to no avail, however. The majority of the crowd cheered the Penguins' every chance, making them the de facto home team for much of the evening.
That changed slightly in the third period when Janne Lahti, who played briefly in the Montreal Canadiens' system broke in alone on goalie Dany Sabourin and beat him with a quick wrist shot to the blocker side. Sabourin had relieved starter Marc-Andre Fleury halfway through the game.
"It was nice to score against an NHL team," Lahti told NHL.com. "That was a special moment."
Lahti had a shorthanded breakaway later in the period, but his bid to tie the game at 2-2 found a goal post instead of twine.
"I actually didn't see where I shot it because I was so close to the defender, but I guess I hit the post," said Lahti. "That would have been a big score."
Instead, Kennedy scored his power-play goal on a 3-on-2 rush, and Dupuis added an empty-netter to make the score more unflattering than the game merited.
Regardless of the score, Thursday was a special time for everyone involved in the game.
Lahti could not believe the size of the crowd, nor the support it showed for the "visiting" team.
"You could tell that it was a special night for the fans," he said. "It's the first night we had a full house. Usually not even close. It seemed that they enjoyed the game. But it was special for the players, too, to play against an NHL team."
Jokerit coach Glen Hanlon admitted that several of the younger members of his team were wide-eyed at the thought of facing Crosby and Malkin, joking that some might still have posters of those two players on their bedroom walls.
But even the more experienced and more jaded Penguins knew as they climbed back on their busses to begin the journey back to Stockholm that they made history this blustery evening.