If you blinked, you might have thought this was the early ‘90s the way pucks were finding the back of the net. Which is fitting because those were the best seasons at Mellon Arena until these last four.
While Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr have long been retired, current superstars Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
had no trouble stepping into their shoes as the lead act.
Crosby, who many of the Penguins’ alumni in attendance on Thursday credit, along with Lemieux, for the sparkling Consol Energy Center the Penguins will move into next season, sent Mellon Arena off in grand fashion, posting a four-point night with a goal and three helpers, including his 500th career point in the second period, as the Penguins defeated the New York Islanders, 7-3, in the final regular-season contest at Mellon Arena.
“Certainly our fans got a look at some open hockey,” Crosby said. “You don’t want to play like the first (period). That is not the kind of hockey we want but that’s the way it ended up. We still got two big points here on a night where there were some expectations. We wanted to finish off strong here so I think everybody is happy with the result.”
Crosby picked up point No. 500 on a power play at 14:34 of the season when his slap shot from the top of the right circle ricochet off the thigh of Bill Guerin standing atop the crease and jumped behind Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson. With that point Crosby became the third-youngest player in National Hockey League history to record 500 points at 22 years and 244 days, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (21 years, 52 days) and Lemieux (22 years, 172 days).
“It’s one of those numbers that is a nice accomplishment,” Crosby said. “You don’t think about those things a lot until they come around. When they come you enjoy it. You always continue to look for more.”
Crosby’s scoring spree, which gives him 104 points on the season, just three behind NHL scoring leader Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, began on the Penguins’ first power play.
Crosby took a pass from Sergei Gonchar at the near boards and fired a pass right through the Islanders defensive box to Alex Goligoski on the far side. Goligoski snapped a shot from the left dot over the shoulder of Islanders goaltender Martin Biron to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead just 4:38 minutes after defenseman Brooks Orpik
opened the scoring.
Pittsburgh’s four-goal explosion during the opening period would be completed with just 58 ticks remaining on the clock when Crosby picked up his league-leading 49th goal of the season – one more than Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos – by taking a drop pass from Pascal Dupuis
and then using him as a screen to throw a shot behind Biron, who never had a chance.
Orpik, who said the Penguins fed off the emotion in the building to build their 4-2 lead following a riveting pre-game ceremony, wasn’t surprised Crosby shined again on the brightest stage.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Orpik said. “He lives up to the moment all the time. It was one of those nights where he seemed like he had that extra jump and he was going. He was seeing the ice really well.”
Crosby picked up his fourth point during the third period when he and Dupuis helped set up Guerin’s second goal of the night – which also happened to be the final regular-season goal scored at Mellon Arena.
On a night that ultimately belonged to Crosby, Malkin wasn’t too shabby either. He returned to the lineup after missing 10 of the last 12 games due to injury and illness to score a breathtaking first-period goal which gives him tallies in each of the last three contests he has played.
New York’s John Tavares had the puck in the high slot of the Pittsburgh zone when he attempted to make a pass back to the left point. Malkin not only stole the pass, he quickly darted the other way, fending off an Islanders backchecker as he streaked down the left seam.
Not only did Malkin use his body position to draw a penalty, he ripped a shot from the bottom of the circle through the legs of Biron to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead. It was Malkin’s 26th goal of the season.
“I wasn’t thinking about trying to score before the game,” Malkin said. “I want to play good every game because the playoffs are starting soon. It was good to score. Everybody was scoring goals tonight – we put up seven. It was a good moment for me.”
Yes, it was another great moment for the Penguins two biggest superstars who hope to help lead the team through one final, memorable postseason run at Mellon Arena. Each player talked about how excited they were to give the Igloo a fitting sendoff, especially for the fans who have made the building such a great place to play.
“There is a lot of history in this building so that made me a little nervous before we started,” Malkin said. “We played a great game and played hard to say ‘thank you’ to our fans. We enjoy their support of the team.”
“You look at all the former players coming out,” Crosby said. “You saw a lot of them at the skate (Thursday) morning and they were excited to be here. It’s kind of an extended family. We didn’t play with all of them but we have all played with this time. To share this night and get a big win, that is special. That is the way you want to remember it.”
And what better way to remember Mellon Arena than another legendary performance by the young superstar who has given the fans so many such moments during his first five seasons.
“It’s fate that in the last regular-season game, there’s another story to tell about a Mellon Arena game and Sidney Crosby
getting four points,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.