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Crosby's late goal helps Penguins beat Maple Leafs

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins' inexperienced defensive corps played like a group of veterans Monday night.

Despite missing five of their top defensemen, the Penguins held on to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 at Consol Energy Center. Sidney Crosby scored the game-deciding goal with 6:03 remaining in the third period to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

After Crosby slapped the puck to the corner off a faceoff, Pascal Dupuis sent a pass to Robert Bortuzzo at the point. Bortuzzo returned the puck to Dupuis, attracting the Toronto defense and leaving Crosby open in between the faceoff circles. Crosby one-timed Dupuis' feed past Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier for his 19th goal of the season.

Crosby leads the NHL with 47 points, two ahead of Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

"I think a lot of the credit goes to the guys coming in," Crosby said. "You look at the guys who have come in from [the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins], they're playing in different roles and playing with different guys in different matchups. They're doing a heck of a job."

Brandon Sutter added an empty-net goal with 3.6 seconds left.

The Penguins' defensive corps played a combined 578 NHL games (444 courtesy of Matt Niskanen) entering Monday, but the inexperience didn't show. The young Pittsburgh defensemen consistently disrupted the Maple Leafs' shots by getting in shooting lanes and pressuring the puck handler.

"I think it helps that they play the same way that we do down there [in the AHL]," Niskanen said. "They know what's going on when they get here. I think that gives them confidence in what we're doing. They just step in and go do it.

"The coaches must do a good job with them down there because they seem like they're on top of things when they get here."

Pittsburgh has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of its past nine games and has won nine of its past 10. Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves for his League-leading 19th win of the season.

Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly scored his first NHL goal to tie the game 1-1 6:03 into the second period. With 35 seconds remaining on Toronto's second power-play opportunity, Rielly carried the puck through the neutral zone and cut through the defense before snapping a shot past Fleury.

"It's a pretty nice feeling, but it's always tough when your team loses," Rielly said. "You're not overly happy after the game because of what the score was, but it's pretty nice just to get it out of the way."

Rielly's goal ended Pittsburgh's streak of 18 consecutive power plays killed. It was the Penguins' second-longest streak of the season, one behind the 19 straight kills achieved from Nov. 15-Nov. 23.

The Penguins entered the game without 10 of its regular players either due to injuries or suspensions, but did not shy away from a physical game in the second. Pittsburgh outhit Toronto 27-16 through two periods.

"When it comes to the physicality of the game, I don't think our team has been an overly physical team this year," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's not part of our identity, I think. We've focused on being better in that regard in terms of our forecheck there in the offensive zone. That's something we're continuing to try to get better at as a group."

Chris Conner scored 39 seconds into the first period. Joe Vitale recovered his own rebound and sent it to rookie defenseman Brian Dumoulin at the point. Dumoulin slapped the puck into the crease and Conner wrapped his stick around Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf to deflect it past Bernier.

Dumoulin, who played in his second game, scored his first NHL point. Conner also scored the game's first goal the previous time Pittsburgh and Toronto played, 1:57 into the Penguins' 6-5 shootout win on Nov. 27.

The Maple Leafs will return to Air Canada Centre to face the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

"I didn't think we played very good in the first period," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "We seemed like we were stagnant for the first period, then we got more of our game going in the second."

Roughly six minutes into the third period, Bernier and Penguins forward Jayson Megna charged toward a loose puck near the left faceoff circle in Toronto's zone. Bernier raced toward the puck to clear it before Megna could reach it and the two collided, sending Megna into the air before landing hard on the ice.

Megna left the game with a lower-body injury. Bylsma said Megna is unlikely to play Wednesday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"Hockey's a tough sport," Bernier said. "I wasn't sure if I had enough time and I got there barely and we just collided into each other and I'm lucky I didn't get hurt and hopefully he's fine too."

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