Crosby returned from a three-game injury layoff to set up Colby Armstrong’s first two goals of the season, and the Penguins held off the New York Islanders in the third period to win 3-2 Tuesday night. Chris Thorburn, normally a checking line forward, scored the game-winner 36 seconds into the third with a seemingly harmless shot from behind the net that banked off goalie Rick DiPietro’s left skate for Thorburn’s second goal.
“I wasn’t trying to shoot it,” Thorburn said. “I was hoping to ricochet it into the slot, and we were fortunate to get the bounce. Jordan (Staal) made the play by driving to the net.”
Marc-Andre Fleury made the one-goal lead stand up by turning aside 33 of 35 shots, 13 in the final period, as Pittsburgh halted a three-game skid. The Islanders had won three in a row and were 6-1-1 in their previous eight games, but were without leading scorer Alexei Yashin. He is expected to be out two to four weeks with a sprained knee.
“He was playing some great hockey, so it’s a little setback for us,” Mike Sillinger said.
Crosby hadn’t played since Nov. 20 because of a sore groin after previously missing only one game in his two-season NHL career. He didn’t take long to make a difference, making a strong pass through traffic to create Armstrong’s first goal 1 1/2 minutes into the game.
“He’s a super player,” Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. “Every time he has the puck, you’re on your toes. He finds people in the open.”
The Penguins lost the three games without Crosby by a combined four goals, losing in regulation, overtime and a shootout. They were held to five goals in those three losses.
“Those are the kind of games we have to win,” Crosby said. “You need those games down the road. To be competitive, you’ve got to come out on top a lot in these games.”
Armstrong began the season playing alongside Crosby after scoring 16 goals in 47 games as a rookie last season, but was taken off the top line before Crosby was hurt because of his lack of production.
“This was good for his confidence,” Crosby said. “He’s been having a tough time, but he kept playing hard and he deserved to break out of it. I hope it continues from here. This is a lot of weight off his shoulders.”
Armstrong’s second goal tied it at 2 midway through the second. Mark Recchi fed the puck across the slot to Crosby in the right circle. Crosby’s shot deflected off DiPietro and lay in front of the net, allowing Armstrong to put in the rebound.
“It kind of popped out and I was able to get to it before the defenceman got his stick on it,” Armstrong said. “It was a lucky bounce.”
Funny how the Penguins get more of those bounces when Crosby is playing.
Viktor Kozlov had answered Armstrong’s first goal by scoring his fifth of the season, a one-timer from the high slot off Jason Blake’s pass from along the boards late in the first. Arron Asham put the Islanders up 2-1 by scoring early in the second.
The Islanders missed tying it by an inch with about four minutes remaining, as a sprawling Fleury and Nils Ekman teamed to swat away Andy Hilbert’s shot as it sat on the goal line.
“I thought it was between my legs, but then I heard the crowd yell and I thought, that’s not good,” Fleury said. “We got a lucky break on that.”
Hilbert certainly agreed.
“It was four-fifths of the way over, but it has to go all the way over,” said Hilbert, who played for Pittsburgh last season. “It happened so fast. It’s one of those things where we got a little unlucky.”
Several minutes before that, Sillinger’s shot deflected off the left post.
“We had a number of chances, especially late in the third period,” Nolan said. “It’s just one of those things where the goaltender was really good.”
Notes: Fleury celebrated his 22nd birthday. … Crosby has six goals and 13 assists in 10 career games against the Islanders. … The Penguins were 0-for-3 on the power play and are 2-for-27 in their last four games. … It was the second of three games in nine days between the teams. The Islanders, who beat the Penguins 3-1 last Friday, return to Pittsburgh on Saturday night. … The Islanders’ Miroslav Satan needs one goal for No. 300 and one assist for his 600th point.