The game was just a few minutes old when Sidney Crosby showed that indeed, he can be as human as anyone else on the ice.
And later he reminded everyone that it's rarely more than a temporary condition.
Crosby made the kind of precision pass that has earned him acclaim as one of hockey's premier playmakers on the second goal in the Penguins' 5-2 victory against New Jersey Sunday night at Consol Energy Center.
Trouble is, the guy he set up was Devils winger Zach Parise.
Crosby more than compensated for his gaffe before the evening was over, though, assisting on Pascal Dupuis' winning goal and scoring an insurance goal on a spectacular individual effort as the Penguins won for the 14th time in their past 16 games.
The victory was their 10th in a row at home, matching the second-longest such streak in franchise history and lifted them back to within one point of the first-place New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins (47-22-6) still have control of their destiny, because both teams have seven games remaining, one of which will be played April 5 at Consol Energy Center.
What's more, the Penguins have accumulated 100 or more points for the third consecutive season, a feat unprecedented in franchise history.
The Penguins played most of the game without defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who had 1 minute, 43 seconds of ice time before leaving with an unspecified injury. Coach Dan Bylsma said Lovejoy will be evaluated today.
Kris Letang left the game briefly in the second period after he appeared to smack heads with Devils forward Dainius Zubrus while checking him, forcing the Penguins to go with just four defensemen for several minutes.
Center Evgeni Malkin, who leads the NHL with 97 points, took a Zbynek Michalek shot off the right hand in the first period. He went directly to the bench in obvious discomfort, but finished the game.
Probably glad he hung around, too, since he scored the empty-net goal at 18:28 of the third that sealed the victory.
Bylsma said that, as of the end of the game, he has no reason to believe that Letang or Malkin has an injury that would have a lasting impact.
Crosby, playing his seventh game since returning from a neck injury, made it through unscathed, at least physically.
His ego picked up a few dents at 5:10 of the first period, however, when, after goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had gone behind the net to play the puck and give it to Crosby, Crosby threw it toward the front of the net.
Turned out it went directly to Parise, who expressed his gratitude by burying it into the vacated net to wipe out an early 1-0 Penguins lead.
"I did a good job of taking [the Penguins' early momentum] away with my pass," Crosby said. "It's a risky play, anytime you go up through the middle. I thought the middle was open, and Parise kind of came out of nowhere. Sometimes, those plays work, sometimes they don't.
"I can't make a play like that with Marc out of the net. I have to make sure I go tape-to-tape. But a lot of times, that play is there. That time, he made me pay."
New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, one of the best puckhandling goalies in NHL history, knows the feeling.
Just 64 seconds into the game, he ventured behind his net to get a puck, but lost it to Malkin, who tossed it out to Chris Kunitz for an easy goal.
"I didn't see [Malkin] coming," Brodeur said. "When I looked down to the puck, it wasn't in the spot that I thought it was and I got handcuffed there."
Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky got worse than handcuffed a couple of times, as Crosby twice reached around him to control passes from a teammate.
The second time he did it, he tipped a Michalek pass around Zidlicky near the Devils' blue line, then collected the puck and broke in alone on Brodeur before beating him at 4:55 of the third to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.
"It's just the way I ended up getting position both times," Crosby said.
"I think I was probably caught too far ahead of the play. That was my only chance, really, of getting [the puck] by him."
It's a chance few players would take, and a play even fewer could pull off. Once, let alone twice.
"To see two situations where he's able to use it, and the second one he scores a goal, a big goal for us, it's not unlike Sidney Crosby to pull that off," Bylsma said.
And not very human of him, at all.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published March 26, 2012 4:00 AM