TAMPA, Fla. -- Eight full games passed between Petr Sykora's 299th career goal and No. 300.
Turned out to be worth the wait.
Sykora put a Ruslan Fedotenko rebound past Tampa Bay goalie Karri Ramo at 11:43 of the third period last night to short-circuit a Tampa Bay rally and make the Penguins' 6-4 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum possible.
The victory clinched a playoff spot, assured the Penguins of no worse than the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference and raised their record to 43-28-9.
It also tested their nerves, because they watched a comfortable four-goal lead melt to almost nothing before Sykora's landmark goal aborted the Lightning's improbable comeback. But Sykora insisted his confidence never was shaken.
"As much as they got back into the game, I knew we weren't going to let this go," he said. "We knew these two points were going to get us into the playoffs."
While at least some of the Penguins were understandably concerned by the way the Lightning injected suspense into the outcome of a game that seemed all but officially over, interim coach Dan Bylsma, who inherited a 10th-place team Feb. 15 when he replaced Michel Therrien, put a clear emphasis on what his team has accomplished, not on its third-period lapses.
"We're still not there yet, but we played the right way and made a remarkable turnaround," Bylsma said. "To a man, in that room, each guy played his part in that. This is a night we can smile on because of that."
Tampa Bay's late-game surge took some of the luster from a two-goal performance by Sidney Crosby, who needed 74 games to record his first four power-play goals this season but just 64 seconds to get Nos. 5 and 6.
The first came during a two-man advantage in the middle of the second period when Crosby beat Ramo from below the right dot at 10:08 after taking a cross-ice feed from Evgeni Malkin. The goal was Crosby's 100th point of the season.
Just over a minute later, Crosby broke down the slot alone before throwing a shot past Ramo night on the stick side for his 32nd of the season at 11:12. It was the first time in more than a year that Crosby had two power-play goals in a game. He last got a couple in the regular-season home finale April 2, 2008, against Philadelphia.
"I'm happy to be able to put a couple in on the power play," he said. "That's something that's going to be important down the stretch. We want to make sure we can be dangerous that way."
Crosby and Malkin, both of whom had been shut out in the previous two games, recorded two points each. Malkin's two assists raised his league-leading points total to 110, leaving him two ahead of Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin. Both players have two games remaining.
The Lightning played the final period without former Penguins left winger Ryan Malone, who had his right hand broken when he blocked a Malkin shot during the second period. Malone said he was told the injury will need four to six weeks to heal.
Neither team scored in the first period, but Fedotenko beat Ramo with a backhander from the slot five minutes into the second period to put the Penguins in front to stay. Crosby added his man-advantage goals, and when Matt Cooke scored from the lip of the crease at 1:08 of the third, the outcome appeared to be certain.
Then the Lightning rallied. Jeff Halpern got a short-handed goal at 4:31, and Martin St. Louis capitalized on a give-and-go with Steven Stamkos at 8:59. And when Paul Szczechura scored from the slot at 9:43, the Penguins' grip on a playoff spot had become awfully loose.
That all changed, however, when Sykora got his 25th of the season two minutes later.
The Lightning protested, with some justification, that Fedotenko interfered with Ramo -- "It depends on what they call 'interference,' " Fedotenko said -- but the goal stood.
Halpern scored again with 40.6 seconds to go, but Jordan Staal got his third point of the evening when he hit an empty net with 12.5 seconds to play.
The game was over and so was the Penguins' long climb back to the postseason.
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com . First Published April 8, 2009 4:00 AM