By Shelly Anderson, The Sports Xchange
PITTSBURGH — Set up behind the Dallas net in a tie game, Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby saw a tricky bank shot as his best recourse. That didn’t work, but the rebound came floating back toward him.
So he did what anybody — or at least, anybody who is in the upper echelon of skilled players in the NHL — would do. He batted the puck out of the air, off the back of Stars goaltender Antti Niemi and into the net for the go-ahead goal in a 6-2 Pittsburgh win Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
It was Crosby’s league-leading 16th goal, coming in his 18th game after he missed the start of the season because of a concussion.
“There’s only a few players in the league who bank those in, and it’s always the same guys,” said Crosby’s linemate, Patric Hornqvist, who finished with a goal and an assist. “He tried the first time, and it went up in the air, and he tried the second one. If you have that skill, you might as well do it.”
Crosby’s goal came with 21.5 seconds left in the second period after the teams traded goals for a 2-2 tie. Pittsburgh then scored three times in the final 3:38 of regulation to break things open and hand the Stars their third loss in a row and fourth in the past five games.
“Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t,” Crosby, who also had two assists, said of his seeing-eye goal. “It kind of laid up there. It was pretty slow, so it was a good one to get. Just trying to get it to the net on the first one, and then the second one, just lying there for me.
“You’re just trying to get the puck between him and the net and hope for a good bounce, and got one there.”
Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (7-5-3) won for the first time in six starts, making 33 saves. He was thrilled to turn the page to December.
“Oh, geez. Yeah, a lot. That was a rough month, that’s for sure,” Fleury said of November. “I’m glad it’s over, and looking ahead now.
“I haven’t had much fun playing hockey in the past few weeks, losing so much and giving up a lot of goals, so that was a fun game to play. Made some saves. My teammates were great, too, helped me out a lot. It was just fun again.”
About midway through the third, with Pittsburgh clinging to a one-goal lead, Fleury — who is sharing the net with Matt Murray this season after being the club’s No. 1 goalie for more than a decade — made a save on a point-blank shot by Brett Ritchie, and that started a scramble during which Fleury was down in the crease and somehow kept the puck out of the net before he was able to freeze it. That earned him a warm ovation.
“I thought he was solid,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I thought he made some timely saves for us, especially in the third period. He made a few big ones.
“I can certainly understand the circumstance. Marc is a guy accustomed to playing every night. The reality is we feel we have two No. 1 goalies here. Those guys are doing a terrific job preparing to play.”
Niemi (5-3-3) made 34 saves in taking the loss for Dallas, which was left frustrated.
“Close. Hard-fought. Obviously, it wasn’t a 6-2 game (by the feel of it),” said Dallas center Tyler Seguin, whose goal gave him 25 points. “We were there the whole game and didn’t put it away when we could.”
Ian Cole gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead during four-on-four play at 8:47 of the first. He blasted a rising shot from above the right circle past Niemi’s blocker. Phil Kessel picked up his team-leading 16th assist.
Dallas tied it 1-1 at 11:25 of the first when a shot from the right dot by Stephen Johns banked in off of Devin Shore, who was among a crowd in front. That brought a cheer from a group in the stands as Johns, of nearby Wampum, Pa., picked up an assist in his first NHL game in his hometown.
“Obviously, not the outcome we wanted, but just looking around the arena tonight, seeing a whole bunch of people I recognize, it was pretty cool,” Johns said. “It just shows how much my hometown means to me and how much I mean to them. It’s something special.”
Hornqvist broke the tie during a five-on-three advantage with a turning backhand shot from just above the crease, making it 2-1 at 7:43 of the second.
The Stars again pulled even, on Seguin’s severe-angle one-timer during a power play at 11:24 of the second.
After Crosby gave the Penguins the lead, he set up linemate Conor Sheary with a pinpoint backhanded pass for a goal at 16:22 of the third. Eric Fehr scored into an empty net for the 100th goal of his career. Nick Bonino closed things out with a goal at 17:55.