NEW YORK -- Chris Conner would have been happy to settle for a bit less.
To take a dozen or so solid shifts, make a few good defensive plays, maybe show a little creativity in the offensive zone
And maybe -- just maybe -- to pick up a point, if things really broke his way.
Well, whether this was how he planned it or not, Conner became the star of the Penguins' 4-2 victory Monday night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, scoring two goals just hours after being recalled from their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre.
Conner was summoned from the Baby Penguins because Bill Guerin, who usually mans the right side on Sidney Crosby's line, was unable to play because of an undisclosed injury.
Conner not only took Guerin's spot in the lineup, but slipped into his place on Crosby's line and did his best to give management reason to at least reconsider any plans it had to ship him back to the AHL at the earliest opportunity.
For while Conner isn't a threat to bump Guerin out of his spot alongside Crosby, he reinforced the idea that he's capable of contributing at this level.
"He worked really hard, and got some good results," Crosby said.
The victory was the Penguins' third in their past four games and raised their record to 33-20-1. They trail first-place New Jersey by two points in the Atlantic Division, although the Devils have four games in hand.
The Penguins, already playing without Guerin, fellow forward Max Talbot and defenseman Alex Goligoski because of injuries, lost right winger Eric Godard early in the first period.
He hobbled off the ice with an unspecified injury after his only shift. There was no immediate word on the nature or severity of his problem.
While Conner deflected much of the credit for his performance to the guys who played with him -- "I got some good bounces there, and played with some great players" -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma noted that while Conner was in Dallas, he occasionally played alongside Mike Modano, so he has some experience at working with elite linemates.
And it was evident early that Conner was comfortable in such a role, as he took a feed from Crosby and beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist from just inside the left dot at 2:47 of the opening period on the Penguins' first shot of the game.
That lead held up until 13:04 of the second period, when Artem Anisimov beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from near the left hash. The goal was Anisimov's first in 18 games, and the first for the Rangers in a span of 156 minutes, 32 seconds.
The game, though, actually turned in the Penguins' favor when Anisimov gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 9:15 of the third.
Fleury, who made 28 saves in his first start in five games, actually put the puck into the net on that goal. Anisimov's shot got past Fleury by the left post, but didn't make it across the goal line until Fleury nudged it with his skate.
"I was on my post, and they kept poking at my feet," Fleury said. "You can't hold your feet [still when that happens.]"
That could have been a significant setback for the Penguins, but instead proved to be an inspiration.
New York winger Marian Gaborik was sent off for slashing 15 seconds after Anisimov scored, and just 16 seconds later, Evgeni Malkin pounded a slap shot past Lundqvist from the top of the right circle to tie the score.
Precisely one minute later, Conner flipped in a Crosby rebound from the bottom of the left circle for what proved to be the winner.
"That [second Anisimov goal] could have been something that deflated us a bit, and it didn't," Crosby said. "We came out hard."
Pascal Dupuis added an empty-net goal with 39.8 seconds left in regulation, but the game actually had been put away when the Penguins seized control after falling behind, 2-1.
"Nobody got down," Fleury said. "Everybody kept going."
Nobody more than Conner, who earned recognition as the game's No. 1 star and manufactured a memory that hadn't fully sunk in a few minutes after the game ended.
"I don't know if it ever will," he said. "But it was fun."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 26, 2010 5:00 AM