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Crosby shines again as Pens top Thrashers

by Shawn P. Roarke /

PITTSBURGH -- So much for Sidney Crosby feeling the pressure of his ever-growing point streak.

One day after admitting he has been feeling a bit more pressure as his scoring streak has climbed well into the 20s, Crosby went out and scored 2 goals -- and added a pair of assists -- to run his streak to a League-best 25 games as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat Atlanta 6-3 on Tuesday night before a sellout crowd at Consol Energy Center.

"It's nice when they're going well and the puck is going in," Crosby said. "It's always good to see that. I think you just try to focus on how you're playing even when they're coming and you don't think too much about that. It's nice to have the puck go in like that."

But, it wasn't all good bounces for Crosby. A goal-front deflection by Matt Cooke off a Crosby slapper late in the third denied Crosby a hat trick -- though several fans were fooled and tossed hats onto the ice in celebration.

"I knew he touched it, and I think (Pascal Dupuis) might have tipped it even before it got to Cookie, too," Crosby said. "It's a nice play from Cookie."

Had Sid scored on the shot instead of Cooke, Crosby would have had back-to-back home hat tricks against Atlanta. Crosby had a natural hat trick against the Thrashers in a victory here on Dec. 2.

Still Crosby has 26 goals and 24 assists during the streak, which began Nov. 5 with a pair of goals against Anaheim. Crosby now has a League-leading 32 goals and 65 points.

With the victory, the Penguins held onto the top seed in the Eastern Conference and retook the top spot in the League. Pittsburgh's 52 points are two ahead of idle Detroit and three ahead of Atlantic Division rival Philadelphia, which has a late game Tuesday night against Vancouver.

It was Pittsburgh's final home game of 2010 and final game here before Saturday's 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals at nearby Heinz Field. Crosby started the night off right for the home crowd, scoring a power-play goal at 10:34 of the opening period and adding an even-strength goal exactly eight minutes later to twice rescue his team for one-goal deficits against the high-scoring Thrashers.

"I don't need to say any secrets, he's the best and you have to play your best game against him and we took the day off," Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec told after making 30 saves. "We have to be ready next time. It's not a secret. He's the best. It is what it is."

Crosby's streak is the longest streak the NHL has seen in almost two decades. Quebec's Mats Sundin had a point in 30 straight games during the 1992-93 season. But Crosby still has a long way to go before he reaches the all-time record of 51 games, set by Wayne Gretzky during the 1983-84 season.

Only nine players have fashioned streaks of more than 25 games in the history of the NHL. Gretzky did so five times and Mario Lemieux did it twice with streaks of 28 and 46 games.

Despite this night being about Crosby, it was low-scoring Craig Adams that changed the tenor of this game with a shorthanded goal at 11:38 of the second period to put the Penguins ahead for good at 3-2.

"After that shorthanded goal, it was one team on the ice," said Pavelec, whose team has allowed three shorthanded goals in its past four outings.

Tuesday night's goal was a thing of beauty as Cooke got in hard on the forecheck, forced the much-larger Dustin Byfuglien to turn the puck over and then fed Craig Adams in the slot as he charged into the zone on a change. Adams rifled a shot over Pavelec and under the crossbar for his second goal of the season, both of which have come shorthanded.

"I'm not sure Cookie knew what he was doing," Adams said, laughing.

It turns out, in part, that Adams was right.

"To be honest I didn't see Adams, I just put it out to space," Cooke told, adding that the penalty-killers are taught to go to the slot on any counterattack during the kill.

Whatever the aesthetics of the play, Crosby -- the unquestioned man of the match -- was duly impressed.

"That shorthanded goal was a nice one," Crosby said. "Cookie worked hard to get that turnover and Adsie finished it. That was a big turning point for us and a big momentum boost."

Crosby then made sure it was not wasted, adding assists on two of Pittsburgh's three third-period goals. He had the primary assist on a goal by Chris Kunitz just 9 seconds into the third, and then the primary assist on the Cooke goal. Mark Letestu had the other Pittsburgh goal in the final 20 minutes.

But it was Crosby's performance in the first 20 minutes that might have been the most crucial as he twice saved his team from one-goal deficits.

"Coming out of the first period, we felt fortunate that he had two goals," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. Our team understood that we were back to 0-0 because of those goals. I think we felt fortunate that we had those two goals from Sid because it allowed us to play a 40-minute game, which we did."

Lost in all of Crosby's heroics was the brilliant play of Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 31 shots for the victory. Fleury is now 16-2-1 in his past 29 starts and has allowed two or fewer goals in all but five of those outings.

Eric Boulton scored with 3:09 remaining in the game to deny Fleury another game featuring two goals or less, but it was too little, too late for the Thrashers. Evander Kane and Byfuglien, on the power play, had the other goals for Atlanta.

The Penguins visit the New York Islanders on Wednesday night before they return home for Winter Classic weekend, culminating with Saturday afternoon's game (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC) against Washington at Heinz Field.

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