Bortuzzo unlikely setup man for Crosby



NEW YORK -- For nearly a month, the tension had been building.

The Penguins got past Columbus in the first round of the playoffs without the benefit of a goal from NHL regular-season scoring champion and Hart Trophy finalist Sidney Crosby.

Then, the first two games of the current series against the New York Rangers came and went. Overall, Crosby had six assists, but no goals. Not on a skill-laden power play. Not off a setup from one of his regular linemates. Not as a result of a considerable amount of playing time with fellow star center Evgeni Malkin moving to his wing.

Until Monday night.

If you had Robert Bortuzzo in some sort of pool for players who would set up Crosby's drought-busting goal, well, you're probably either full of blind luck or prone to a white lie.

"When he's hollering, you get it to him," Bortuzzo, a bit wide-eyed, said after the Penguins beat the Rangers, 2-0, at Madison Square Garden to take a 2-1 series lead.

Bortuzzo's stretch pass sprang Crosby for the winning goal in the second period. It also was Crosby's first goal after he had gone 13 playoff games in a row, dating to a year ago, and 13 games overall, dating to the regular season, without one.

"Yeah, I was calling for it," Crosby said. "I wasn't sure how much room there was, but he made a great pass to my tape."

In his own end, Bortuzzo took a chip-shot from Chris Kunitz, who was along the far boards. He moved up to the top of the right circle and hit Crosby in stride approaching the far blue line.

"I pushed and tried to get some good heat, a good snap on the pass and, hopefully, catch him in stride," Bortuzzo said. "Fortunately, it did, and he made a great bury."

Crosby had a half-step and a good angle on Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and finished what he had turned into a breakaway by scoring on a shot between the pads of New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

It's a play the Penguins like to make, a defenseman moving the puck up to the forwards.

In this case, Bortuzzo had just enough time for it to sink in that the guy looking for a stretch pass, the guy calling for the puck, was Crosby.

"[Kunitz] gave it to me. I popped my head up," Bortuzzo said. "I saw Sid streaking and the defenseman coming in an awkward position.

"We know our guys stretch sometimes because they have [defensemen] pressing down. When it happened to be Sid, I did have a couple of seconds to think, 'I hope this goes in.' "

Bortuzzo, 25, was playing in his fifth career playoff game. He was added to the lineup after defenseman Brooks Orpik sustained an unspecified injury. Orpik is skating but hasn't had a full practice.

Bortuzzo, a third-round pick by the Penguins in the 2007 NHL draft, had 10 assists in 54 games in the regular season, when he was in and out of the lineup depending a great deal on which other defensemen were healthy. The assist Monday was his first career playoff point, but he wanted nothing to do with having the puck as a souvenir.

"Uh, he keeps that puck. He can have that puck," Bortuzzo said of Crosby, adding that it was more about the Penguins putting the puck into a collection of game-winners.

Bortuzzo (6 feet 4, 215 pounds) is known for more hits than for points. He has eight hits in his short playoff career. On this night, he had one more assist than he had hits.

Crosby's goal came shortly after a Rangers power play. Bortuzzo was not on the ice with his regular defense partner, Rob Scuderi, but with Matt Niskanen, who didn't get to admire Bortuzzo's play live as much as he would have liked.

"I didn't see it developing," Niskanen said. "I was underneath the pile in the left corner, and all of a sudden the puck pops out to [Bortuzzo], and he launches one up the middle. I had no idea what was going on. And Sid's busting on a breakaway.

"A good read. Put it right on his tape in stride. Nice finish."

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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