Crosby hits 1K assists, keeps Penguins surging



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PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby is too consumed with the moment to think about the history he’s making. Too focused on trying to will the Pittsburgh Penguins into a playoff berth that seemed unlikely a month ago to consider the weight of all that he’s done.

Besides, there’s really no need. The heights Crosby is reaching now are the kind reserved not just for the greatest of their time, but the greatest of all time.

The latest proof came Thursday against Detroit, when the longtime Penguins captain became the 14th NHL player to reach 1,000 career assists and the league’s 10th all-time leading scorer with one trademark backhand flick.

Crosby’s deft feed to the slot ended up on the stick of teammate Erik Karlsson. The defenseman did the rest, blasting a shot by Alex Lyon 1:40 into overtime to give the Penguins a 6-5 win that leapfrogged them over Washington and into the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot.

“He plays his best when the stakes are high like all of the all-time greats that have played the game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s one of those guys.”

Crosby became the seventh player to record 1,000 assists with one franchise, joining Ray Bourque (1,111 with Boston), Wayne Gretzky (1,086 with Edmonton), Steve Yzerman (1,063 with Detroit), Mario Lemieux (1,033 with Pittsburgh), Gordie Howe (1,023 with Detroit) and Joe Sakic (1,016 with Colorado/Quebec).

He also required the seventh-fewest games to hit the milestone, at 1,269 games.

Crosby finished with a goal and two assists Thursday to boost his career total to 1,591, one more than Hall of Famer Phil Esposito. Sakic is next in ninth at 1,641, with Lemieux in eighth at 1,723 and Crosby’s childhood idol, Yzerman, in seventh at 1,755.

Considering the way Crosby is playing at 36, if he stays healthy, it’s a matter of when he passes them, not when.

“I haven’t looked that closely at it,” Crosby said. “But to be in that company with all those players you mentioned, that means a lot. I grew up watching those players.”

Kind of like the way Crosby’s teammates sometimes find themselves watching his No. 87 and shaking their heads at what they’re seeing. Crosby collected assist No. 999 in the first period on Drew O’Connor’s goal and tied Esposito on the scoring list with a brilliant redirect at the left post.

He collected a rebound off a Rickard Rakell shot in the extra period and threw the puck to an open sheet of ice, giving Karlsson enough room to blast in his 10th goal as the Penguins improved to 7-0-3 in their past 10 games. It’s a surge few saw coming a month ago when they were languishing in 13th place in the East.

Now they’re in eighth with three games remaining thanks in large part to Crosby, who was voted the club’s most valuable player by his teammates for a 12th time earlier in the day.

The 36-year-old is certainly playing like one.

“He’s a big part of our game and he’s a big reason that we are in the situation we’re in,” Karlsson said of Crosby. “And we’re going to need him playing like this down the stretch here to have a chance.”

Kris Letang and Jeff Carter both scored their 10th goals for Pittsburgh. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 25 shots as the Penguins overcame another late meltdown in which they let a two-goal third-period lead slip away again.

It’s been an issue all season. Yet this time Pittsburgh recovered to take control of its playoff fate.

“We’re just finding ways to win right now,” Nedeljkovic said. “They’re not always going to be pretty. You’d like them to be a little prettier than that but you know, like I said, we’ll take two points tonight.”

Pittsburgh was nine points out of postseason position two weeks ago. Crosby and Nedeljkovic have keyed a surprising late run as the Penguins closed ground quickly on Washington, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Now, they’ve overtaken all three.

The Red Wings’ hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 took another hit with their third loss in four games.

Lucas Raymond had his second career hat trick for Detroit. Jeff Petry, a former Penguin, added his third of the season. Dylan Larkin scored his 33rd for the Red Wings. Lyon made 21 saves, but couldn’t stop Karlsson late as the Penguins earned the extra point.

“Hard to get one point,” Larkin said. “Again, they got two and that’s a team we need to catch. The positive is the no quit. They played pretty well and we’re right there.”

The game had a postseason feel from the opening faceoff, a marked contrast to a month ago when PPG Paints Arena sounded like a library at times with the Penguins skidding and chances of making the playoffs remote at best.

Those odds have improved considerably behind Crosby’s sustained brilliance and the emergence of Nedeljkovic, signed in the offseason to be the backup behind Tristan Jarry, only to find himself a fixture in net during the most important stretch of the season.

Nedeljkovic downplayed his role, pointing instead to the player who has defined the franchise for a generation.

“It’s been something special, specially these last couple weeks, just watching him play,” Nedeljkovic said of Crosby. “He’s a man on a mission.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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