Pittsburgh’s 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Monday at Madison Square Garden was impressive in itself, as New York leads the league with 50 wins and had gotten five straight heading into tonight.

But when you factor in that the Penguins had to make some last-minute lineup changes with a number of guys feeling sick, it was a particularly inspiring effort from the group.

“Today’s been an interesting day. There was a lot of uncertainty going into that game, and we're in a position where we need every win, playing against a really good team and a really hard building to get wins in,” Bryan Rust said. “I thought we came out hot with the start and kept trying to push.”

He scored twice, with his first coming 18 seconds in before getting an empty-netter in the final minutes. Sidney Crosby got two goals and an assist to give him 82 points on the season, ensuring he will average a point per game for the 19th time in his 19-year career.

Throughout NHL history, only Wayne Gretzky (19) has recorded as many point-per-game seasons as Crosby. 

"Obviously something I didn’t want to talk about, I knew it was getting closer," the captain said with a smile. "Any time you can be in that company, it’s pretty cool."

“He's unbelievable hockey player, unbelievable person,” Rust said. “Puts in the work each and every day. You can see why he's been so good for so long.”

Tristan Jarry had been set to start in the first half of this back-to-back, but didn’t dress due to illness. That meant Alex Nedeljkovic found out he was getting his fifth straight start shortly after arriving at the rink, with an emergency backup goaltender (EBUG) waiting in the wings if needed.

When asked what challenges come with that, he jokingly responded, “what challenges?”

“You prepare the same way, whether you're playing or not,” he continued. “Stuff like this happens. It doesn't happen often, but it happens, so there's nothing really different.”

Nedeljkovic’s teammates and coach couldn’t say enough about his play.

“He was great. As a goalie, I'm sure it's not the first time he's been thrown in a situation like that. But I think the magnitude of the game and just the importance of every game right now.. that definitely tested him,” Crosby said. “He was great. It was nice that we were able to get him the lead, and he made some huge saves to keep us in it all night.”

Rust and Crosby started the game with birthday boy Reilly Smith on their line, which was partly because Drew O’Connor – whose three-game goal-scoring streak came to an end – battled through being sick. “Gotta give a big shoutout to OC. He gutted it out today. Guys like that, performances like that, a high-character guy right there,” Rust said.

Smith did well alongside those guys, starting the sequence that led to Rust’s opening tally. At the 10:39 mark of the first period, Crosby deflected a shot from P.O Joseph past Igor Shesterkin.

In a rather uneventful second period, there was some contact between Crosby and the Rangers goalie when he came out to play a puck. Shesterkin backed Crosby into the boards before giving him a shove, but the captain just skated away.

“I think he's just trying to get himself in the game. Obviously, we had the lead and he didn't see a lot of shots in the second. We didn't get a lot. So, I think he was just trying to help and maybe create a little emotion, too,” Crosby said before adding with a laugh, “I've had a few run-ins with goalies in this building before, so tried to learn from that a little bit, and just try to worry about playing. But we were just competing out there, I don't think there's anything to that. That's one that doesn't usually happen, but you know, it's all part of the game.”

In the third period, Emil Bemstrom – one of Pittsburgh’s late additions – scored a beauty of a breakaway goal to make it a 3-0 lead. The Rangers did respond from there with a couple in about a six-minute span to cut their lead to one, but the empty netters – Rust’s at 17:39 and Crosby’s at 19:15 – sealed the win.

“You gotta find ways in times like these, where you have last-minute guys in and out, whatever we got to do to get wins,” Crosby said. “So that was a great team win and something that hopefully we can build off of.”