It was not, Sidney Crosby said, a matchup the Penguins had tried particularly hard to avoid.
Maybe not, but a late-game icing allowed them to do it, anyway. And it might have made their 3-1 victory against Toronto Monday night at Consol Energy Center possible.
The score was tied, 1-1, when the Maple Leafs were called for icing at 13:52 of the third period. That meant Toronto had to keep its personnel on the ice and was not allowed to send out defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who had been used extensively against Crosby.
Five seconds later, Phaneuf still was on the bench, watching Crosby celebrate his 19th goal this season.
He took a feed from linemate Pascal Dupuis, then threw a shot past Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier from just above the right hash mark for the winner.
"[Dupuis] found me in the slot," Crosby said. "There was a lot of room there."
He might not have had quite so much if Phaneuf had been involved.
"He's the best player in the game for a reason," Phaneuf said. "He has been for a long time. He makes a real good shot there."
Good enough to give the Penguins their fourth consecutive win and eighth in a row at home.
They have gone 9-1 in their past 10 games despite having to use a severely watered-down lineup much of the time and are 24-10-1, good for a 10-point lead over second-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division.
The Penguins played without center Evgeni Malkin, who sustained an unspecified injury when he slid skates-first into the boards during the third period of the Penguins' 4-1 victory Saturday night in Detroit.
They lost forward Jayson Megna after he got an apparent leg injury in a collision with Bernier in the third period. Coach Dan Bylsma said he is day-to-day and unlikely to play when the Penguins visit the New York Rangers Wednesday.
They also were without their top four defensemen -- Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and Kris Letang -- for the second consecutive game.
Rookie defenseman Philip Samuelsson made his NHL debut and was one of the seven Penguins skaters who has spent time in the American Hockey League this season. He logged 15 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time, nearly all at even strength.
Samuelsson was the 11th defenseman to play for the Penguins this season, and the Penguins learned after the game that they shouldn't need No. 12 when they face the Rangers.
Robert Bortuzzo was assessed a minor penalty for an illegal hit to the head of Toronto right winger Jerry D'Amigo at 10:19 of the third period, but the league announced that there will be no supplemental discipline because of it.
"[D'Amigo] tried to lean forward, chip it by the boards and go in on a breakaway," Bylsma said.
"Robert gets body-on-body contact. [D'Amigo] is low because he's reaching for the puck. It's a big hit."
Bortuzzo was not available for comment after the game.
Another Penguins defenseman, Deryk Engelland, faces and in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan, who handles supplemental discipline for the league, in New York Wednesday because of a hit he delivered to the head of Detroit's Justin Abdelkader Saturday.
Bortuzzo finished with a game-high six hits, had a fight and was a presence nearly every time he went over the boards.
"I thought someone slipped gunpowder in his pregame meal this afternoon," forward Joe Vitale said. "He was on fire. He was something. He was fun to watch."
The Penguins went in front 39 seconds into the game when Chris Conner deflected a Brian Dumoulin shot past Bernier. Toronto got a power-play goal from Morgan Rielly at 6:03 of the second, then neither side scored until Crosby put the Penguins in front to stay.
Brandon Sutter scored into an empty net with 3.6 seconds left to seal the victory and give the Penguins their first short-handed goal this season.
Winning has become a habit for this team, and the steady influx of replacement players hasn't changed that.
"We're not sheltering anyone," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "They're stepping right in there. ... They've been fantastic. They've done everything they're supposed to do."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter@MolinariPG.
First Published December 16, 2013 9:57 PM