Sidney Crosby had three assists in a 4-2 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, raising his NHL-leading point total to 116 and helping the Penguins reach 100 points and sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division.
“It’s a nice little milestone to hit for us,” Crosby said. “After the year we had last year, you don’t want to stop there. But it’s a nice accomplishment.”
Crosby had 39 goals and 63 assists as a rookie last season, but the Penguins managed just 58 points as they missed the playoffs for the fourth time since their appearance in 2000-01. While he’s improved a bit this season, his team has had a complete turnaround.
“We’re happy with that,” coach Michel Therrien said of being alone in first place, two points ahead of the idle New Jersey Devils. “As long as we concentrate on winning our games, we’ll be fine.”
Erik Christensen had two goals and an assist, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 31 shots as the Penguins won their fourth consecutive game and ninth out of 11. Pittsburgh is second in the conference only to the Buffalo Sabres.
With the loss, the Bruins were eliminated from playoff contention.
“It’s obviously a tough position, being officially out,” said defenceman Zdeno Chara, who was supposed to be the free-agent catch that would turn Boston around. “We were in the hunt for a while, but it’s disappointing and we have to move on.”
Phil Kessel and Brandon Bochenski each had a goal and an assist for Boston, which took a 1-0 lead just 45 seconds into the game but fell behind 2-1 before the midpoint of the first period. Tim Thomas stopped 22 shots for his fifth consecutive loss and the Bruins lost for the sixth time in seven games.
Kessel tied it 2-2 with 10:56 gone in the game when he came from behind the net, flipped the puck into the air and then batted it past Fleury. But Pittsburgh took the lead for good 31 seconds later when Crosby fed Christensen as he streaked down the left side; he wristed a shot through Thomas’ pads.
“Emotionally, it wasn’t there,” Therrien said. “This was a tough game to play because we played against a team that’s out of the playoffs. I’m sure Saturday will be a totally different game. The Maple Leafs will be fighting for their lives.”
The Penguins made it 4-2 with 8:30 left when Michel Ouellet dug the puck out and from behind the goal line passed it across the crease to Evgeni Malkin. It was Malkin’s 33rd goal of the season and fifth against Boston, but just his second in the last 10 games.
Notes: Thomas was named the Bruins’ “Seventh Man” before the game. … Pittsburgh had lost five straight in Boston and nine of 10 to the Bruins. … Ouellet had a pair of assists. … Colby Armstrong also scored for Pittsburgh.