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Crosby caps milestone game with OT winner over Winnipeg

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Sidney Crosby fed Chris Kunitz for a first-period goal against Winnipeg on Thursday to become the 86th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point plateau, added an assist on Phil Kessel's game-tying goal in the third and then put the winner past Connor Hellebuyck with 21 seconds left in overtime as the Penguins escaped with a 4-3 victory.

Hollywood may just buy the rights to this script.

Sidney Crosby, who finally found his 1,000-point status confirmed early in the game naturally closed things with the overtime game-winning goal that pushed Pittsburgh (36-13-7) over Winnipeg (26-30-4), 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena Thursday night.

Crosby finally chased down his 1,000th career point joining just 86 other players in the history of the NHL to accomplish the feat.

Crosby got his point assisting Chris Kunitz (9) who finished on a center ice one-timer past the glove of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck just five minutes into the game.

The Penguins' longtime captain, who began his career in 2006-07 becomes the 11th youngest to achieve the mark.

“The success he’s had, the ups and downs he’s had to go through and you still see how fast he’s been able to accomplish things when he had the few rough year’s there not knowing what day he was going to come back,” said Kunitz who has been a teammate of Crosby for eight years.  “The adversity that he’s put himself here, the responsibility he’s putting on himself to make our team better every single year.  He became that complete true leader in the sense that he is going out taking those last faceoffs out in our own end and he’s the guy who will score in the big time when you need him.  I’m proud to be a part of a special moment like that.”

“At this point you’re just looking to get it and it’s funny the way things work out with Kunny getting it,” said Crosby.  “We played a lot together in a lot of different games and situations and it was fun for him to be the one to get it.”

87 finished Thursday’s game with two assists and the one goal, a patient setup from Evgeni Malkin who drew two defenders allowing Crosby to stand wide open on the back door of Hellebuyck for the finish with just 22 seconds left in overtime.

“It doesn’t surprise me.  He is a tremendous player,” said head coach Mike Sullivan about Crosby scoring the game-winner.  “The fact that he scored 1,000 points in the amount of time he has is a testament to the player he is.  He’s an ultra-competitive guy and he’s an elite player.  The fact that he scores the game-winner is apropos given that he gets his 1,000 point earlier in the game, but it doesn’t surprise me in any bit.  I think the sky is the limit for him.”

Deserving of some of the spotlight shined on Crosby and his remarkable feat was the man who has been on the ice with 87 every step of the way in goalie Marc Andre-Fleury who carried the Pens through the final minutes of regulation and overtime. 

With a running chant of “Fleury” throughout the building late in the game, the veteran netminder answered stopping 44 of 47 shots including 14 of 16 in the 3rd period and all four in overtime, including two breakaways and a 2-on-1 break in which Mathieu Perreault was stopped stone-cold by a sliding Fleury on his glove side just prior to the Pens successful game-winning rush.

Fleury has been at the front page of hot news talk in recent days of the goalie possibly being traded.

“We are going to play each game as it comes, that’s how I look at it,” said Sullivan.  “I thought Marc had a solid game for us and the guy’s in front of him played hard.”

“These are tough questions,” said Fleury who won his 91st overtime game.  “I don’t know about anything right now.  You know tonight, you just don’t know what is coming.  I tried to just focus on the game and get us the win.”

Pittsburgh had its own on-ice adversity with two injuries to defensemen Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz who was hit against the boards and left after several minutes of laying on the ice early in the 2nd period. 

Sullivan did not have an injury update but declared more information would be released as it was received in the morning.

“They did a great job under significant circumstances.  They did a pretty solid job,” said Sullivan of the remaining blue line’s performance Thursday.”

“Winnipeg has a big team and they use their size and strength to help them win,” Coach continued.  “I thought we got off of our game in the 2nd period, we took a few penalties which didn’t help.  We got away from our game in the 2nd period, and as a result we spent a long time in our end zone.  I like the way our guys finished up in the 3rd period.”

The Penguins, who carried as much as a 3-1 lead late through the 2nd period, got goals from Evgeni Malkin, who opened the scoring netting his 24th of the season, and Phil Kessel (21) who tied the game at three with a one-timer from a perfectly set up dish from Kris Letang on the man-up advantage midway through the 3rd period.

Overall the Pens put 39 shots on goal, finding the penalty box themselves six times, including three trips for Geno who found himself in most of tonight’s scuffles, including a near one-on-one fist fight with Nikolaj Ehlers to start the 3rd period near the Penguins bench.

“They are a physical team,” said Kunitz.  “We knew about their size coming into this game and I thought we did our best with our game plan late in that 3rd period.”

Congrats, Sid
Let the anecdotes pour in.  Crosby, the most prolific goal scorers and set up men in hockey, finally reached the 1,000-point plateau, becoming just the 3rd in Penguins history to achieve the feat.

It took Crosby 757 games to reach the mark, in comparison to Alexander Ovechkin who reached the coveted number after his 880th.  It took the Kid just 12 more games than hockey legend Phil Esposito to eclipse 1K.

“I was happy to be there with him,” said Fleury of his long-standing teammate.  “I’m so proud of him and I have so much respect for this guy.  He’s a great captain.  I’m happy to see him do it.”

The kid is just one of eight active players standing at the 1K mark.  He also leads the Penguins in goals and assists at PPG Paints Arena (100 and 165 respectively,) and is the top scorer from his draft class with LA’s Anze Kopitar behind him at 716.

“Right now, Crosby is the best player, and you have to earn your stripes,” said Wayne Gretzky in an interview with Bleacher Report earlier in the month.  “Until somebody knocks him off the castle, that’s the way it’s going to be.  He won two Stanley Cups and two gold medals, and he’s handled pressure and handled everything with grace and dignity, and he deserves the accolades he’s getting.”

After the Moneyline
The Penguins came in as -220 favorites, and they just eclipsed the tied season-high line of 6.5 goals.

Next Up
Pittsburgh will play visitor to the Blue Jackets tomorrow night in Columbus.  Puck drops at 7 PM.

In terms of betting between the blue lines, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the public darlings of the Eastern Conference, however it is the Vegas Golden Knights who have dethroned the Pens as the top-wagered NHL team this year, and it looks to stay the same way as we enter the 2018 NHL Playoffs.
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