TORONTO - Sidney Crosby showed flashes of his dominant form, provided some highlight-reel fodder with a brilliant breakaway goal and then pronounced himself fit.
That stuff about a groin injury? "No worries," he said. "It was just a groin tweak, everything was good."
It certainly looked that way Friday night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins captain picked up a goal and an assist in a 5-4 pre-season win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 21-year-old superstar sat out Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Leafs at Mellon Arena with groin soreness but was a force pretty much every time he stepped on the ice Friday, even if his touch wasn't as crisp as it usually is.
Still, after earlier setting up Mark Eaton's goal, Crosby tied the game 3-3 at 5:26 of the third period when he took Miro Satan's breakaway pass and beat Vesa Toskala despite being hauled to the ice.
It was a nice bit of redemption, as he was robbed in the second period when Toskala stuck his toe out on Crobsy's shot after a pretty cross-ice pass from Satan during a 2-on-1.
"He made a good save," Crosby said of his rejection. "It was nice to get one."
Matt Cooke settled matters with 1:35 left, banging home a loose puck for Pittsburgh's first and only lead of the night. Kris Letang knotted the game 4-4 at 16:14 after Tomas Kaberle, who also had two assists, gave the Maple Leafs a brief 4-3 lead at 7:55.
Janne Pesonen also scored for the Penguins (3-0-1), who depart Saturday for Stockholm, Sweden, where they'll open the NHL season with games versus the Ottawa Senators Oct. 4 and 5. They'll also make a brief jaunt to Finland for a friendly with Jokerit Helsinki, so playing well against the Leafs was of the utmost importance.
Coach Michel Therrien told his team as much during the second intermission, urging them to be less worried about playing with structure.
"We're thinking too much - we've got to play with our instinct," said Therrien. "When you're thinking too much about the positioning, you're not reacting like you're supposed to react.
"We're not in groove right now. It takes time."
Luke Schenn, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Dominic Moore and Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for the Maple Leafs (1-2-0), who weren't able to capitalize on those growing pains before a crowd of 18,884.
They were less than four minutes away from victory before coughing it up.
"What happened shouldn't happen," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "We watched all the replays and all the mistakes are correctable."
Skating with Miro Satan and Pascal Dupuis on his wings, Crosby worked his magic along the boards, bullying his way to the front of the net and made brilliant passes through sticks and legs.
Midway through the second he won a faceoff in the Leafs end back to Alex Goligoski, who relayed a pass to Eaton, who promptly wired a shot off a sprawling Ponikarovsky and past a fooled Toskala. That cut Toronto's lead to 3-2, setting the stage for the third-period rally.
"We do have a few new guys and I think everyone is getting a little bit adjusted," said Crosby. "With each game we're getting more familiar with everyone, that takes time, but guys are really focused on playing the way we know how and playing the system.
"As long as we're doing that, we have a lot of skill so that should take over."
Toskala, making his pre-season debut, made several eye-popping stops, including a pair on shots off cross-ice passes in the first. He stoned Dupuis on a great feed from Satan in the first minute and flustered Jordan Staal midway through the frame.
Schenn made it a 3-1 game when his shot from the point snuck through a screened Marc-Andre Fleury just 1:55 into the second.
"For sure," Schenn said when asked if his confidence was growing. "I'm feeling more comfortable and I just want to keep progressing."
Ponikarovsky sent the Leafs into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead when he tipped Carlo Colaiacovo's point shot off the face of Letang and into the goal.
Pesonen tied the game 1-1 at 15:24 when he took the rebound of a Ruslan Fedotenko shot off the end-boards and shovelled it past Toskala.
Moore opened the scoring a minute and a half earlier with his third goal of the pre-season, second shorthanded, when he picked up Jamal Mayers' clearing pass in the neutral zone after Letang fell at the blue-line, coasted in on Fleury and beat him high.
Notes: Darryl Boyce and Tim Stapleton were among the 13 players assigned by the Leafs to the AHL Marlies. ... The Penguins also opened the 2000-01 season overseas, clashing with Nashville in Japan. ... Penguins tough guy Paul Bissonnette fought for the fourth time this pre-season, pummelling Toronto's Ryan Hollweg midway through the second. Bissonnette picked up 35 penalty minutes in his previous two games. ... Schenn was playing in his third straight game.