ST. PAUL, Minn. – Sidney Crosby has waited three years for a chance to play professionally in the “State of Hockey.”
The hockey-crazed fans here have been just as eager to see No. 87 in person, and the NHL’s newest superstar and his brilliant young sidekick didn’t disappoint. Playing in Minnesota for the first time in their young careers, Crosby had a goal and three assists, and Evgeni Malkin scored twice and had an assist in Pittsburgh’s 4-2 victory over the wounded Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.
“It’s fun to be able to come here and play,” said Crosby, who starred as a 15-year-old player at prep powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. “No matter how the night ended up, it’s just nice because I was here before, watching games and dreamed of one day playing in the NHL and playing here. It’s really a bonus to come out of here with a win.”
Petr Sykora’s power play goal – on a beautiful feed from Crosby in the slot – broke a 2-2 tie with 9:55 to play, and Crosby broke free on a line change by Minnesota and sealed the win with his fifth goal of the season just over four minutes later.
“Crosby’s line was on fire,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.
Stephane Veilleux and Brian Rolston scored for the short-handed Wild, who lost at home for the first time this season and fell to 0-3-1 in their last four games after starting the season an NHL-best 7-0-1.
Pittsburgh caught the Wild at an opportune time, after a rash of groin injuries shelved Minnesota’s top three players. Dynamic forwards Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra and No. 1 goalie Niklas Backstrom all missed the game.
“It’s a huge hole, there’s no question, but we have enough guys in here to get the job done,” Rolston said. “We were in the game tonight, all the way through it. We just need to be a little bit better.”
Josh Harding made 23 saves for Minnesota, but a couple of unlucky bounces did him in against Pittsburgh’s talented kids.
With the NHL’s head-scratching unbalanced schedule, this was the first time Crosby and Malkin have played in front of fans in the Western Conference’s Northwest Division in their careers.
Crosby looked forward to this game even before he was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005. “The Next One” scored 72 goals in 57 games at Shattuck in 2002-03, the same season the Wild made a stunning run to the Western Conference finals.
“It’s nice to come back here and play. Even if you don’t have ties to here, you come to this rink, it’s a great atmosphere,” Crosby said. “You play this team and you have no choice but to get up for it.”
As in most arenas he goes to, there were plenty of No. 87 sweaters in the seats, and he received a nice ovation upon being introduced before the game, a rarity at Xcel Energy Center, where fans worship the Wild.
“He’s a great leader and he is a great player,” Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire said. “I don’t know him personally, but I’d love to have one on our club, if they make any more.”
As it seems to have done for Crosby and Malkin throughout their young careers, the puck always seemed to bounce their way in the second period.
Malkin scored the first goal of the game when Crosby lost the puck behind the net, and it trickled right onto the Russian’s stick. Malkin slipped the puck in on Harding’s left side for an easy wraparound goal, his fourth tally this season.
Luck was on Pittsburgh’s side again just 25 seconds after Veilleux tied the game. Crosby camped out in front, and Ryan Malone’s shot from the point glanced off Crosby’s skate and onto Malkin’s stick. Malkin had a wide-open net and hit it easily for a 2-1 lead.
“It seems like that’s been our luck lately,” Harding said. “And the only way you can get though that is hard work. It obviously is very frustrating.”
Notes: Wild D Kim Johnsson bruised a leg in the second period and didn’t return. … Malone, who played at St. Cloud State University about an hour northwest of the Twin Cities, had two assists in his first game playing in Minnesota since he was in the Young Stars Game at the 2004 All-Star weekend in St. Paul.