Ruutu's magic sparks victory

Crosby is scoreless in comeback game

Sidney Crosby played his first game at Mellon Arena in more than two months last night. Went home without a point to show for it.

Same with Marian Hossa, who finally got a chance to skate on Crosby's right side before leaving the game with an unspecified injury.

And the Penguins' reconfigured power play -- with Crosby on the point opposite Sergei Gonchar -- failed to score on five opportunities.

None of that mattered, though, because Jarkko Ruutu turned in the latest in a series of strong performances, leaving his fingerprints all over the Penguins' 3-1 victory against the New York Islanders.

He piled up a career-high three points, including a short-handed winner and a deft assist that led to linemate Georges Laraque's critical insurance goal.

"He's so complete," Crosby said. "He's drawing penalties. He's playing physical, scoring goals, setting them up."

Although Ruutu's stats -- he has six goals and 10 assists -- don't rival those of his more celebrated teammates, he recognizes that lineup-wide contributions are imperative at this time of year.

"We need everybody," Ruutu said. "It's not like your first or second line is going to carry you every night. You need stuff from the third and fourth lines, especially in the playoffs."

The victory moved the Penguins (45-26-7) into first place in the Eastern Conference. They are one point in front of Montreal, although the Canadiens have a game in hand.

The Penguins are six points ahead of New Jersey and the New York Rangers, who are tied for second place in the Atlantic Division. Their magic number for clinching the division championship, which would be their first since 1998, is five.

Hossa departed with what the Penguins characterized as an "upper-body injury" at 3:37 of the final period after Islanders center Sean Bergenheim ran into him from behind while Hossa was gliding backward.

"It's not fun seeing that," Crosby said. "Hopefully, he'll be all right and he can get back here soon."

Coach Michel Therrien declined to offer an update on Hossa's condition, saying he had not checked on him.

That was the second time Hossa had to adjourn to the locker room for medical attention. He went off at 8:35 of the second after being knocked through the air and landing hard on his left hip, but returned just over two minutes later.

When he was in the game, Hossa was up front on the No. 1 power play, with Evgeni Malkin and Ryan Malone. The second unit had Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal and Petr Sykora as the forwards.

"[The top unit] moved the puck really well and created some chances," Therrien said. "They didn't finish, but, for a first game, I'm satisfied."

The pivotal moment came on a power play, but it was one for the Islanders, not the Penguins. New York was up a man when Ruutu broke a 1-1 tie with a spectacular individual effort at 15:12 of the second.

He chased down an errant pass by the Islanders in the neutral zone, carried it down the left side and continued around the net before sweeping in a shot on the short side.

"I've tried that before," Ruutu said. "In practice, it works."

The Penguins were protecting that lead at 6:40 of the third, when Ruutu chipped a puck to Laraque, who moved down the slot and buried a shot behind goalie Wade Dubielewicz for his first goal in 33 games.

Malkin, who had gone two games without a goal, staked the Penguins to a 1-0 lead with his 45th of the season at 6:53 of the opening period. He picked up the puck behind the goal line before moving toward the right dot and throwing a shot past Dubielewicz.

Josef Vasicek pulled New York even when he put a backhander from inside the right circle off goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and into the net at 16:31.

"When it goes through you, it's frustrating to let those in," Fleury said.

Especially when Vasicek's goal ended Fleury's shutout streak ended at 127 minutes, 27 seconds.

Happily for Fleury, Jarkko Ruutu made sure his winning streak is still intact.

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published March 28, 2008 4:00 AM


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