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Nugent-Hopkins completes Oilers comeback

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- A player taken No. 1 in his draft year scored the game-winning goal at Rexall Place on Friday night. But this time, it was not Sidney Crosby.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first player selected in the 2011 NHL Draft, started the Edmonton Oilers' comeback from a two-goal third-period deficit, then completed it by scoring 1:01 into overtime for a 4-3 victory against Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

James Neal and Crosby, the No. 1 selection in 2005, scored in the second period to give the Penguins (32-12-2) a 2-0 lead through 40 minutes. But Nugent-Hopkins had a pair of power-play goals and an assist for the Oilers (15-27-5), negating the goal and assist for Crosby, the NHL scoring leader with 67 points.

"That shows a lot of character for us, and just to show we can play this way, it was a big game for us," Nugent-Hopkins said. "We tried to limit him [Crosby] as much as possible, but he's the kind of guy that is going to create stuff offensively.

"We knew we had played well going into the third period, so there was no real deflation. When we get into trouble we kind of deflate and don't bring that same effort and I thought we did a good job of not getting too down on ourselves and we pushed back and we did a great job of sticking with it."

Nugent-Hopkins got the game winner when he took a cross-crease feed from Jordan Eberle and beat rookie goaltender Jeff Zatkoff during a 4-on-3 power play. He had started the comeback by scoring 53 seconds into the third period with a power-play shot that went through traffic and past Zatkoff.

"I think it was a real step forward for [Nugent-Hopkins] and his confidence level playing against a player like [Crosby]," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "And then holding it together after we made a couple of mistakes and we got down by two.

After Taylor Hall tied it at 10:07, Kris Letang put the Penguins back in front by scoring a power-play goal with 7:44 remaining. But Anton Belov forced OT when he scored his first NHL goal with 1:59 remaining in regulation.

"With our history this year, some nights we haven't wanted to stick with the game plan and just breathe," Eakins said. "[Friday] we did that, we took a breath and understood what we needed to do and we stuck with it. It's good when you get rewarded that way, because it backs up what we're trying to promote. Beating a team like Pittsburgh puts a little jump into our step."

Neal opened the scoring at 2:09 of the second period, taking a pass from Evgeni Malkin in front and firing a shot past goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Malkin stripped Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry of the puck behind the net, lost it, then regained it before setting up Neal for his 17th goal of the season.

Crosby scored his first career goal against Edmonton at 7:55 to put the Penguins up 2-0. He took a drop pass from Brian Gibbons on an odd-man rush and had his centering pass bounce off Sam Gagner's skate and through Dubnyk's pads.

Dubnyk finished with 25 saves in the win. Zatkoff made 27 saves.

"We just didn't match their desperation," Crosby said. "Being up by two goals, obviously we need to find a way to close that game out. We knew they were going to come out hard for the third and we still let them get even. Then we took the lead and lost it again. You don't deserve to win games when you do that."

The Penguins had a great chance to extend the lead towards the end of the second period following a scramble in front of the net, but Dubnyk was able to dive out and stop Chris Kunitz from in tight to keep it a two-goal game heading into the third.

Nugent-Hopkins cut into the deficit with his early goal, and Hall tied it when he picked up a loose puck alone in front and slipped it past Zatkoff. Up to that point, Hall had been frustrated with his night.

"It was a fun effort all around, there was a good atmosphere in the arena [Friday] and we found a way to win," Hall said. "We were down quite a few times in the game, but we came back, stuck to our guns, stuck to our game plan and it was good to see.

"I was maybe a little too amped up to play sometimes. You get frustrated sometimes in a game and that never seems to pan out for you. You have to keep on an even keel and stay relaxed out there and make sure that you're working ever shift to be excellent."

Letang restored the Penguins' lead at 12:16, two seconds after Nugent-Hopkins took a hooking penalty. Crosby won the faceoff cleanly against Boyd Gordon back to Letang, who snapped a shot short-side past Dubnyk.

Belov tied the game on a shot through traffic that beat Zatkoff.

Brandon Sutter took a tripping penalty with 24 seconds left in the third period to give the Oilers a power play that extended into overtime, leading to Nugent-Hopkins' game-winner.

"We had a 2-0 lead and they got back in it," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We get a power-play goal and then they were able to tie the game. We didn't match their desperation at the end. A big part of the game was the penalties we took. We took a penalty on the power play two times and we took a penalty behind their net in the offensive zone at the end of the third that turns into the game-winning goal. We had three penalties that were undisciplined."

The loss snapped the Penguins' three-game winning streak. They conclude a three-game road trip Saturday against the Calgary Flames. The Oilers begin a four-game road trip Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

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