Penguins forwards Maxime Talbot, Arron Asham and defenseman Kris Letang celebrated a first period against the Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo Saturday.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sidney Crosby picked up a point for the 18th game in a row Saturday night, which is quite a feat.
He also escaped HSBC Arena with nothing worse than a few welts, bumps and bruises, which might be even more impressive.
For a while there was considerable ill will on both sides throughout the Penguins' 5-2 victory, going after Crosby -- repeatedly, and with what looked to be considerable malice aforethought -- looked to be the cornerstone of Buffalo's game plan.
That's not necessarily a bad idea, since Crosby has been playing at a level most mortals couldn't reach in their finest hallucinations, but the Sabres embraced the concept with genuine enthusiasm.
Whether it was Western Pennsylvania native Mike Weber trying to pummel him along the left-wing boards in the Buffalo zone midway through the second period or Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers attempting to inflict serious bodily harm with a neutral-zone hit early in the third, there wasn't much subtlety to the Sabres' approach.
"I knew [Weber] was going to punch me," Crosby said. "He got four [minutes of penalties], I got two. That's the way it is sometimes."
He went on to express a thought voiced by many of his teammates: That referees Ian Walsh and Kevin Pollock did not make calls that could have prevented the game from getting as nasty as it became.
"If you let it get to that point, it's going to get there," Crosby said "That's the nature. Two teams that are competitive want to play a physical game, but if you let it get to that point, it's going to happen."
After failing to capitalize on several scoring opportunities earlier in the game, Crosby kept his points streak alive with a cross-ice pass that led to Alex Goligoski's winner at 12:09 of the third.
It was Goligoski's fourth winning goal of the season, trying the franchise record for defensemen shared by Larry Murphy (1993-94), Michal Rozsival (2001-02) and Brad Werenka (1998-99).
Crosby, by the way, was out-produced by forward Dustin Jeffrey, who had a goal and an assist in his first NHL game of the season.
His goal was set up by defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who made a rare appearance of his own after being a healthy scratch for the previous six games and 15 of the past 18.
Jeffrey went to the net and Lovejoy, who had the puck in the right-wing corner, threw a pass that hit Jeffrey's skate and sailed past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
"Getting an assist like that early in the game boosts your confidence a great deal," Lovejoy said.
Arron Asham doubled the Penguins' lead by driving a slap shot past Miller from above the right circle at 9:31, but Buffalo countered on a five-on-three power play at 15:49, as Tyler Ennis tossed a shot by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from along the goal line to the right of the net.
There were no goals in the second period, but there were plenty of bad feelings, especially when Weber went after Crosby.
"It was a really chippy game," Lovejoy said. "Everybody seemed to be at everybody's throats. There was a lot of stuff after the whistles, a lot of yelling at the referees."
Crosby finally got his point on Goligoski's goal at 12:09 of the third, but just 51 seconds later, Jason Pominville of Buffalo backhanded his own rebound by Fleury to make it 3-2.
Mike Rupp restored the Penguins' margin of error at 16:43, however, as he jammed a Jeffrey pass between Miller's legs to put the Penguins up by two, and Matt Cooke put the game out of reach with an empty-net goal at 19:17.
The victory was the Penguins' seventh in a row on the road, tying a franchise record.
And while there was ample room for an upgrade -- their power play failed to score on four tries, for example -- there also were some excellent performances. Jeffrey and his linemates, Mike Rupp and Craig Adams, to be sure, as well as Fleury, who made 34 saves.
"[It] wasn't our best game," Crosby said. "We know that. But we found a way to win."
They've done that a lot in the past few weeks. Beating the Sabres put them within five victories of the longest winning streak in NHL history, set by the 1992-93 Penguins.
Could be they will focus on No. 17 sometime soon. Not just yet though, as Crosby was quick to point out.