Crosby's 3 assists fuel rally vs. Oilers
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EDMONTON, Alberta -- With attendance that would rival, maybe even surpass, a Mike Tomlin weekly news conference, Penguins center Sidney Crosby faced enough cameras, microphones and notepads to fill a moderately-sized room inside Rexall Center.
And that was just after the morning skate, before he had a chance to play his first NHL game in Western Canada.
Crosby then made the fans wait, going without so much as a shot through two periods last night before he set up the tying goal, the winning goal and another for good measure in a 4-2, comeback win over the Oilers in front of 16,839, Edmonton's 88th consecutive regular-season sellout.
It was the fifth win in six games for the Penguins, who got goals from Maxime Talbot and Kris Letang within 21 seconds in the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit, the go-ahead goal from Colby Armstrong at 10:57 and a fourth from Ryan Whitney at 13:30.
"I could have gotten shut out in the third period and it would have been a different story, but I play the same way every game," Crosby said.
Penguins forwards Erik Christensen and Armstrong, who grew up in this part of Canada, had lots of friends and family here. Winger Georges Laraque was loved when he played here and got a handful of shifts with Crosby, including one to open the game. Winger Petr Sykora was co-leader for Oilers in scoring last season with 53 points
Yet there's little question that was all overshadowed for Edmontonians, who have been keenly anticipating Crosby's arrival. The unbalanced NHL schedule forced them to wait until he was more than two months into his third season.
In a little less than 36 hours in this cold, snowy town, Crosby participated in three news conferences. The defending league scoring champion and MVP politely answered questions, deftly sidestepping comparisons with the most famous man to patrol the ice here, if not anywhere, Wayne Gretzky.
When Crosby stepped onto the ice for the pregame warmup, he got a warm cheer from those already in their seats. It happened again when he was shown on the video screen during the American national anthem.
They were cheering again as the game ended, and Crosby gave the crowd a little wave.
"There were a lot of cheers," Crosby said. "A lot of times those cheers on the road are boos. It was a nice gesture."
It's likely to be similar in Calgary. And Vancouver.
Crosby, as usual, will accommodate those fans, maybe even more than they would wish if he produces like he did against Edmonton.
With the New York Islanders' loss to Atlanta earlier last night, the Penguins moved out of the Atlantic Division cellar and into an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
It was an emphatic way to start their road trip. They play at Calgary tonight, Vancouver Saturday night and Philadelphia Tuesday.
"It's an important step for the season," coach Michel Therrien said. "The first game on the road trip is always a big one. You try to build some momentum."
The Penguins climbed above .500 at 13-12-2.
They got Sergei Gonchar back after he missed three games because of a groin injury. Therrien opted to dress seven defensemen, a rarity for him, leaving wingers Adam Hall and Jarkko Ruutu out of the lineup.
Gonchar entered last night as the top scorer among defensemen in the league and an important part of the Penguins' power play -- they were 2 of 14 without him at the point in the previous three games. They were 1 of 2 on the power play last night, with Whitney's goal coming during a man-advantage.
Well before that, it didn't seem as if special teams or anything else was going the Penguins' way.
"We had a long flight here [Tuesday], and I don't think we had our legs going the first two periods," Crosby said.
Robert Nilsson opened the scoring for Edmonton at 5:39 of the first period. From the right circle, his one-time shot off a pass from Joni Pitkanen at the left point crashed past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Oilers leading scorer Shawn Horcoff made it 2-0 from pretty much the same spot, also on a one-timer, at 17:22 of the second period. He was set up on a cross-ice pass from Alex Hemsky.
Talbot closed it to 2-1 when he sprawled to bat in a rebound at 6:05 of the third period, kicking off a frenzied comeback that Crosby jumped into.
"He was just getting everyone a little antsy and more excited before he got those three assists in the third," Whitney said.
Crosby dug the puck out of traffic behind the Oilers net to set up Letang for the second goal at 6:26, set up Armstrong at 10:57 and Whitney at 13:30.
"We had a good third period," Whitney said. "It's good to start the road trip off like that."
First Published December 6, 2007 12:43 am