Crosby returns from 21-game injury absence to set up Talbot's winning goal
Sidney Crosby made an impact in his first game back last night in Tampa, Fla., assisting on the deciding goal by Max Talbot late in the third period.
Sidney Crosby is stopped by Lightning goalie Mike Smith.
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TAMPA, Fla. -- This was the color of rust, Sidney Crosby style: He jumped over the boards at the St. Pete Times Forum 46 seconds into the first period, the first time his skates touched the ice in an NHL game in more than six weeks.
Seconds later, working off a short two-on-one with Max Talbot against Tampa Bay defenseman Alexandre Picard, Crosby took a pass from Talbot near the top of the crease, but goaltender Mike Smith got his skate out and Crosby put the puck off the post.
Several scoring chances later, Crosby helped to set up Talbot's winning goal at 17:13 of the third period that broke a scoreless tie in a 2-0 Penguins win against the Lightning.
"He was creating all night. He had a great game," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said of Crosby, who missed the previous 21 games because of a high right ankle sprain.
"I'm sure he was pumped to get back, and we were glad to have him back."
Whitney was returning from an injury, too, having missed the previous two games because of a sore groin.
Evgeni Malkin, who carried the team in Crosby's absence, scored an empty-net goal with 4.9 seconds remaining.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, making his second start since returning from another of the several high ankle sprains that have dogged the Penguins this season, made 35 saves to pick up his third shutout of the season and improve to 11-8-1.
None of his stops was bigger than the one at 11:44 of the third period, while the game was still scoreless.
Tampa Bay's leading scorer, Vincent Lecavalier, swept in on Fleury on a breakaway.
"I was like, 'Oh, [expletive],' " Fleury said. "He's got such a good shot, good hands. I just tried to wait as much as I could."
He waited out Lecavalier long enough to be able to fall forward on the puck.
"Both goalies played well, but Marc was huge for us," Crosby said..
Crosby, the reigning NHL scoring champion and MVP, declared himself ready to return after the morning skate.
Although coach Michel Therrien went into the game intending to manage Crosby's time closely and perhaps limit it if his star center struggled, let Crosby go.
That was, in part, because the Penguins lost forward Jordan Staal in the first period when his ribs were bruised in a collision. And partly because Crosby let his coach know he was doing fine.
"We gave him ice time, and the No. 1 reason was we lost Jordan early in the game," Therrien said. "I asked him on the bench how he felt. He felt pretty good."
Crosby finished the game with 22 minutes, 7 seconds of ice time. He had three shots, won 11 of 15 faceoffs, had a plus-minus rating of plus-2 and picked up his first point since being injured Jan. 18 when he was leading the NHL with 63.
He played on a line with wingers Talbot and Pascal Dupuis, and that line produced the winning goal as Talbot plunked the puck past Smith from the top of the crease to cap a three-on-three rush. Dupuis got the other assist.
After his first-shift scoring chance, Crosby's next best chance came at 16:13 of the first period, when defenseman Brooks Orpik, just out of the penalty box, sprung him on a breakaway, but Smith stopped Crosby's wrist shot from the slot.
Crosby had played well with Malkin on his wing, but Malkin played even better at center with Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora while Crosby was out, so Therrien stuck with that top unit.
"We didn't want to touch Malkin's line because they have been doing a great job," Therrien said.
Crosby's return gave Therrien some decisions to make with his power play.
"What a great problem to have," he said.
He kept Malkin's line together on the top unit for the Penguins' first power play, with Crosby mopping up along with Jeff Taffe and Tyler Kennedy. On the team's subsequent power plays, Crosby skated with Malkin and Malone.
"He brings so much to our team," Talbot said. "He had a lot of scoring chances, a lot of energy."
Energy that waned as the game went on, Crosby admitted.
"It's good to get it over with and get that feel, my timing a little back, but I'm still not there," he said. "I had some great chances I would have loved to put in. It didn't happen. Sometimes, that's the way it goes."
First Published March 5, 2008 12:00 am