Neal, Crosby torch Toronto to earn shootout win for Penguins


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TORONTO -- Desperation built.

And built.

For the Penguins, it was a matter of holding off the hard-charging Toronto Maple Leafs after twice leading by two goals. For Penguins center and team captain Sidney Crosby, that included clawing at the stubborn black tape on the blade of his stick so he could replace it -- a personal ritual -- and take part in the shootout.

With the fresh tape finally in place, Crosby, the Penguins' second shooter, lofted a shot over Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer for a 5-4 win Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.

"The tape wouldn't come off," Crosby said. "I was getting a little worried. It's the only stick I had. I was afraid I was going to have to take the shootout with no tape on my stick. I was lucky enough to get the tape on my stick and ready to go."

Crosby also was fortunate that he was OK after getting upended and sent into the boards by Toronto's Cody Franson in the third period.

"I think he was just trying to lie down to block the pass," Crosby said. "My feet kind of got caught up. I got some air time."

Things were little more questionable about fellow Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who got crunched into the boards on a hit by the Maple Leafs' James van Riemsdyk a little before Franson sent Crosby flying.

Malkin was playing in his third game after missing four because of a concussion. He was mostly upright on the check and did not appear to hit his head. Coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin was held out of the overtime as a precaution but indicated that Malkin -- the defending NHL scoring champion and MVP -- will be evaluated for an unspecified injury.

Bylsma had no prognosis for Malkin, including whether he might be available tonight when the New York Islanders visit Consol Energy Center.

Malkin had an assist against the Maple Leafs, who erased a two-goal deficit and forced overtime when Phil Kessel scored on a rebound at 15:40 of the third period.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri in the shootout, while James Neal and Crosby beat Toronto goaltender James Reimer.

"I wasn't happy giving up four goals. I wanted to make sure we got those two points in the end," Fleury said.

The Penguins got the game's opening goal, and quickly.

Matt Niskanen took a shot from the right point. The puck deflected off of Kessel's stick -- and right to Neal, who swept the puck past Reimer from the slot 36 seconds into the first period to make it 1-0.

The Maple Leafs tied it, 1-1, with a power-play goal at 7:14 of the first period when van Riemsdyk, stationed directly in front of Fleury, provided a screen and a tip-in on a shot by Kessel. It came 12 seconds into the man-advantage.

Later in the first period, the Penguins had a stretch of 3:21 on a power play, including 39 seconds of five-on-three, but couldn't score and managed just two shots. Shortly afterward, though, they struck for goals 50 seconds apart.

Crosby gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead at 14:31. Kris Letang intercepted a little clearing pass by Reimer and threw the puck across the rink to Crosby, who scored from the left circle.

The goal gave Crosby points in seven games in a row against the Maple Leafs as well as a season-high six-game points streak.

Crosby, who missed most of the past two seasons because of a concussion and neck injury, was playing in his first road game against Toronto since Jan. 9, 2010 when he had a goal and eight shots in a 4-1 win..

Toronto almost immediately turned the puck over at its blue line, leading to the Penguins' third goal.

Malkin caught up to the puck and whipped a blind, backward pass to Paul Martin. Reimer stopped Martin's shot, but the puck bounced in off of Toronto's Carl Gunnerson to make it 3-1 at 15:21 of the first.

With Crosby in the penalty box for tripping Kadri, the Maple Leafs' power play needed just 17 seconds to score, on Franson's shot from the right point, to make it 3-2 at 10:12 of the second.

"They won the special teams battle in a big way, and that was a factor for us," Bylsma said.

Pascal Dupuis tucked a shot inside the left post, and the puck trickled under Reimer to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead at 13:01 of the second period. One minute later, Clarke MacArthur scored to pull Toronto to within 4-3. The Maple Leafs pressed hard in the third, and Kessel tied it on the only goal of the period.

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly. First Published March 10, 2013 5:00 AM


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