PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby and Ryan Miller likely will meet up again in three weeks, this time wearing their country’s colours rather than those of their NHL teams.
Maybe by then, Miller will have forgotten how Crosby beat him for three goals in less than half a period’s time on a night the Penguins star proved how quickly he can take over a game.
Crosby scored three times in slightly more than eight minutes of the second period as Pittsburgh quickly turned a two-goal deficit into a two-goal lead, then held on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 on Monday night.
Crosby tied Patrick Marleau of idle San Jose for the NHL goals lead with 37 by following up his game-altering performance during the Penguins’ 2-1 shootout win Sunday against Detroit in their Stanley Cup rematch with an even better one.
Crosby’s hat trick was his third of the season and fifth of his career, and the Penguins pressed unsuccessfully to try to get him a fourth goal in the final period. By the end, they were scrambling to keep their lead, too.
Jason Pominville scored on a power play with three minutes remaining, and the Penguins were forced to kill Brooks Orpik’s holding penalty with 2:04 remaining as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made several excellent saves – the best against Thomas Vanek – in the closing seconds. Vanek earlier had a goal and an assist.
Miller could be in net for the United States when it plays Crosby-led Canada on Feb. 21 in Vancouver, and Crosby already knows he can beat him in a variety of ways.
“We made some good plays. We had an odd-man rush, we had a good bounce off the skate and he (Miller) isn’t able to get back in the net (on one goal),” Crosby said. “If you look at the goals, you can’t really fault him on a lot. There were some really nice plays made there. I don’t think we tried anything different (against him), we always try to get second chances and that’s tough for anybody.”
The Penguins captain has never had a four-goal game in the NHL, and it was evident in the third period he was going for it, twice failing on good scoring opportunities early in the period.
“I don’t know if he’s getting better, but he’s taking advantage of the opportunities we gave him,” the Sabres’ Tim Kennedy said. “When you give a guy an open net and give a guy a 2-on-1 and then a power play, guys like that aren’t going to miss those opportunities. That’s on us. He is one of the best players in the game, but I think that we gave him a lot.”
Crosby got Pittsburgh to within 3-2 on a power play at 10:53 of the second, almost fanning on a shot off Alex Goligoski’s pass from centre point but still getting enough on it to score. Miller had made a combined 69 saves while winning his previous two starts.
After Jordan Staal tied it with a wrist shot that deflected off Miller’s right arm, Crosby took advantage of a Buffalo giveaway to score at 17:30. Miller was clearing the puck behind the net only to have it ricochet off defenceman Tyler Myers’ skate directly to Crosby, whose shot rebounded off the goalie and trickled across the goal line.
“When you have a two-goal lead, you play a tighter game than that,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. “You don’t hand them those opportunities.”
Crosby scored again at 18:55, working an odd-man break with Kris Letang to beat Miller with a hard wrist shot, causing a shower of caps to litter the ice.
Miller’s frustration showed, too, when he yanked Crosby’s skates out from underneath him as a play was ending less than two minutes into the third period.
“He knew he got me, but somebody else (Jochen Hecht) got the penalty. I don’t think the refs saw it,” Crosby said. “Goalies are sneaky sometimes. That’s what they do when you’re in their crease.”
Fleury made 30 saves in a game in which neither Olympic goaltender – he is one of three goalies picked by Canada – had a strong game.
Pittsburgh’s other goal, by rookie Mark Letestu 47 seconds in, was the first of his NHL career. Later in the first, Derek Roy and Vanek scored 48 seconds apart to give Buffalo the lead. Kennedy made it 3-1 at 7:32 of the second off tic-tac-toe passes by Michael Grier and Clarke MacArthur following Crosby’s turnover.
“We were down by two goals and they’re a good team, but nobody quit and everybody played hard,” Fleury said.
NOTES: The last time the teams met, Pittsburgh couldn’t hold a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 in Buffalo on Dec. 29. … The Penguins tied Buffalo for third place in the Eastern Conference with 71 points apiece. … Miller is 2-5-2 in his last nine against Pittsburgh. … Crosby has six goals and seven assists in his last nine games against the Sabres. He has 14 goals in his last 15 overall.