PITTSBURGH – For one period, the Pittsburgh Penguins finally started to look like the offensive juggernaut they thought they could be.
Petr Sykora and Kris Letang each had two goals, and Sidney Crosby got back into action with a goal and three assists as Pittsburgh scored five third-period goals in a 6-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.
Jordan Staal added a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who weren’t sure if Crosby would play until the morning skate. He missed last weekend’s all-star game because of a sore knee. Pittsburgh broke open a 1-1 game in the final period against all-star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
“We did a great job in the third,” Crosby said. “Staalsy started it off, that was big for us. We wanted to make sure that we started the period well early and we got the next goal. Staalsy started all that and we built off it from there.”
NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin added two assists, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots for Pittsburgh, which also beat the Rangers at home on Jan. 18.
Nikolai Zherdev and Marc Staal scored for the Rangers, 5-2-1 in their past eight games. New York’s other regulation loss in that span was the 3-0 defeat in Pittsburgh 10 days earlier.
“I think we’re going to forget the third period,” Rangers defenceman Paul Mara said. “For the first two periods, I thought we played well. The power play moved the puck around, got some great shots on net and some quality scoring chances. If we could take away the third period, I think we were solid.”
The defending Eastern Conference champion Penguins entered the all-star break in 10th place after having won only nine times in 25 games since Dec. 1, but they scored five times in a span of 17:19 of the third to win for the fourth time in six games.
“It’s great for the confidence of the team,” Letang said of the third-period outburst. “I know we’ve been struggling a little bit before the break, so it was just important to win this game at home, especially against a hard division team. It’s good for everyone; we’ve got to build on that for games in the future.”
Crosby injured his knee on Jan. 14 against Washington, causing him to miss the following game. He played the next two, but when the knee didn’t improve, he sat out the All-Star game and skills contest – but was in Montreal for the event. Crosby said on Monday he was not in game condition.
He assisted on third-period goals by Letang and Sykora and closed out the scoring with his 18th goal, a pretty, no-look backhander that beat Lundqvist high to the glove side with 1:40 left.
“I just tried to turn and fire it,” Crosby said. “I thought it might surprise him a little bit.”
Letang had scored once in the previous 53 contests, but the defenceman got his second of the season off a feed from Crosby with 13:42 to play. He added another 10 minutes later, splitting the defence off a pass from Malkin, for his first two-goal game in the NHL.
After Zherdev gave New York the lead with his 13th goal just 2:24 in, the Penguins scored four straight.
Sykora’s first of the game and 18th of the season came 6:35 in. Neither team scored again until Jordan Staal put the Penguins ahead for good with his 15th at 1:11 of the third. Staal was in beyond the goal line to the right of Lundqvist when he attempted a pass to Chris Minard that missed Minard and banked off the left skate of an unsuspecting Lundqvist and into the net.
“They got a little bit of a flukey goal there and that seemed to turn the game around,” New York forward Markus Naslund said. “We just got away from our game plan after that. I thought we played a really strong game up to that point and I think we all felt confident going into the third. We have to regroup better.”
Sykora scored again, his 12th power-play goal of the season, while Pittsburgh had a two-man advantage midway through the third.
“I just played terrible. That’s what happened,” Lundqvist said. “I can’t explain it. As a team we played great the first two (periods) and I played pretty good, I think, and I make a mistake on the second goal and then they get another one on the power play. I just lost my game in the third, totally, and that’s definitely not good enough.
“I didn’t stop the puck in the third. I’m upset with myself right now.”
Notes: Pittsburgh forwards Max Talbot and Pascal Dupuis returned to the lineup after missing time due to injuries. … Pittsburgh RW Eric Godard and New York RW Colton Orr fought three seconds into the game. … Rangers RW Ryan Callahan missed his first game this season. He sat out due to the flu. … The Penguins were without D Brooks Orpik, who missed his third game in a row (undisclosed injury) and LW Matt Cooke, who was serving a suspension.