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Core Leaders Guide Penguins to 17th Win in 19 Games

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Sidney Crosby set such an example in Tuesday's 6-3 over Arizona, his teammates even started making plays like him.

After the captain made a no-look, between-the-legs backhand pass to set up Bryan Rust for a second-period power-play tally, Brian Boyle produced a between-the-legs play of his own to score Pittsburgh's final goal of the game.

"That was awesome," Rust said of Boyle's goal. 

Tweet from @penguins: Okay, Brian Boyle... You FANCYYYYY. pic.twitter.com/3Z10euCNsT

 When describing the feed from Crosby, who finished with a goal and two assists, Rust said his initial thought was to just try and put it in the net. 

"But kind of looking back on it, it's just one of those things that you take a step back and say, it's just another fantastic Sid play," Rust said. "I've been around for a while, and I've seen a lot of those."

After being asked about the sequence, Kris Letang decided to pose a question of his own to the media, that he answered himself.

"I mean, are you guys surprised now? I don't think so. Right?" he said with a laugh. "Sometimes you think he has eyes behind his head. It's just…you're going to keep being amazed even if he's 34, 35. Until he's 40, he's going to be one of the best players in the world."

Mike Sullivan said what went through his mind was probably the same thing that goes through everybody else's.

"What a terrific play," he said. "In my tenure here as the coach, when some of our guys make those types of plays, you sit behind the bench - we probably get one of the best seats in the house - and sometimes we marvel at what they do out there. That's just an indication of their generational talent. And they do it an awful lot. We're fortunate in Pittsburgh to have the privilege to watch these guys every night."

Tweet from @penguins: Fun fact: Bryan Rust now has 16 points (7G-9A) in nine games home games this season. pic.twitter.com/VfRr2BdI0G

Throughout this incredible run that the Penguins have been on, where they have won 17 of their last 19, Sullivan has often referenced the core leadership group of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang - and did again tonight. 

"That's where it starts, for me," Sullivan said. "These guys are accomplished players and they've built such an impressive legacy to this point, but they're hungry for more. They just have such an appetite to win, and I think that's contagious in our locker room. There's an expectation when you put a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey on that everybody's in it to win, and I think it starts with those guys."

And it started with Crosby in particular tonight, as he had his legs under him for the first couple of shifts. He recorded three of Pittsburgh's first six shots and dominated in the faceoff dot, and was definitely their most noticeable player in what was a relatively quiet first in terms of offense.

He really went to work in the second period, starting with that beautiful feed to Rust on the Penguins' second power play of the night to tie the score at 1-1. Just a few minutes later, Crosby made another magnificent pass - this time to Letang - for another man-advantage goal to again tie the score, this time at 2-2.

After that, it was Crosby's turn to finish off a play, as Rust capitalized on a bad pinch in his own zone and went up the ice on what he thought was a 2-on-1 with Jake Guentzel. But the third member of their line was right there as well.

"Hit him once, he gave it back to me, and I just tried to find him again," Rust said of Crosby, who is now just three goals away from becoming the second active player to score 500. "He's a guy that if you find him in between the hashmarks at the top of the crease, he's probably going to put the puck in the net. It was just a great play by him just to hop up into the rush there, too."

Letang got his second of the game at the 11:36 mark to give him four goals and 17 points in his last 12 games, ranking fifth in the league in points that span. Boyle rounded out the scoring to give Pittsburgh three unanswered goals in the third en route to their 6-3 victory, their sixth in a row and seventh straight at PPG Paints Arena.

Malkin finished with two helpers in the game, giving him nine points (3G-6A) in eight games this season since making his debut on Jan. 11 at Anaheim after recovering from offseason knee surgery. 

"He feels a lot more comfortable," Letang said. "Sometimes when you come back from injury, especially a long injury, your feet stop moving and it takes a little bit more time to react and make the plays. And you see that he's increasing the speed of his play. Whether it's his feet or his vision or execution, he's just gonna get better. It was a long time without playing, and he's already making a huge impact on our team. On our power play, he's such a threat. But his play is increasing game by game."

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