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Pens’ Conner has a day to remember

Monday, 01.25.2010 / 11:34 PM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Pens’ Conner has a day to remember
Fresh up from Wilkes-Barre, Pa, Chris Conner scored a pair of goals, including the game winner, to play the improbable hero in the Penguins 3-2 win over the Rangers.
NEW YORK -- Just another day in the life of Chris Conner, right?

Well, no, not exactly.

It's not every day that Conner wakes up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. ready to practice with the Pittsburgh Penguins' minor-league team only to find himself celebrating a pair of goals, including the game-winner, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

"I'm not going to lie, it's been fun," Conner said after recording his first multi-goal game in the Penguins' 4-2 win over the Rangers. "It was definitely a blast, a great day."

Conner got word of his call-up from Penguins' management just before 11 Monday morning as he was preparing to go on the ice with the 'Baby' Penguins. He skated briefly, showered, packed and hopped in a car for the roughly two-hour drive to Manhattan.

He arrived in the Big Apple around 3, giving him enough time get in his pre-game meal.  He had to take his pre-game nap in the car, which is why his wife, Lindsay, and their 11-month old son, Caden, drove separately from Wilkes-Barre.

It wasn't the first time Caden saw his daddy play in the NHL -- that happened a few times in Dallas last season, Conner said -- but it was the first time the little guy saw his old man score a goal.

Granted, Caden's 11 months and it probably won't register with him, but Conner won't ever forget it or this whirlwind day and night.

"Hey, I'm not complaining," Conner said.

Soon after arriving in Manhattan, Conner also learned he was going to be on a line with Sidney Crosby. He found it best not to think about that too much before the game.

"Sometimes when you use your brain it gets in the way," Conner said. "You just go out and play and you gotta have fun with it."

Conner, though, fit in seamlessly with No. 87 largely because of his speed. He's generously listed as being 5-feet, 8-inches tall, but his speed is what keeps him around the NHL game and it paid off in a big way Monday.

He used it to stay with Crosby on a 3-on-2 rush early in the game and the result was his first goal. Conner took the crossing pass from Crosby in the left circle and waited for the defenseman to bite before firing a wrist shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist low on the stick side just 2:47 into the first period.

"You can see that he creates a lot just with that speed, and with the way he shot the puck on the first one," Crosby said. "He held it and the D went down to block it, so he showed some good poise there."

Conner scored the winner by darting into the zone and jumping on a rebound Lundqvist left near the left circle after stopping Crosby. Conner whacked at the loose puck and it again managed to squeeze through on Lundqvist's stick side.

"I was throwing it on net," he said. "There was a rebound, he was down and it happened to go in the same spot the first one did. It was short side, maybe a little awkward, but you throw shots to the net and good things can happen."

The Penguins picked up Conner this past summer via free agency. He spent the last three seasons in Dallas' organization, playing 71 games and scoring 7 goals along with 14 assists with the Stars.

"One of the things we liked about Chris Conner is he played with Mike Modano on a line in Dallas," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Getting called up and being asked to play with a Sidney Crosby or a Evgeni Malkin can be a tough call-up, but he has that experience having played with Modano. And, he has that speed that adds a real asset to a line. We're real pleased with adding him to our organization."

Conner, who played six games with the Penguins earlier this season, earned his call-up Monday by playing well for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over the weekend. He tied a franchise record with five points on 2 goals and 3 assists in Saturday's 6-3 victory over the Syracuse Crunch. He has 22 points in 24 AHL games this season.

"Chris Conner was the best forward down there this past weekend and earned this call-up because of that," Bylsma said. "That's the way we try to have that competition, have guys pushing for spots. Chris Conner got it because of his play and he cashed in."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com


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