Crosby, who has missed 59 games during the past two seasons because of concussions and their effects, had one assist in last night’s win over the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“This game is a lot more than about Sidney Crosby coming back,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters. “If we want to catch the Rangers, and catch first in our division, and hopefully first in the conference, we have to beat them.”
The Rangers (44-19-7) have 95 points, 12 more than the Boston Bruins of the Northeast Division in the race for the conference’s top seed in the playoffs. New York leads the Atlantic Division by four points over the Penguins (43-21-5), with the NHL listing division leaders in the first three playoff spots no matter their point totals.
Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke scored the first of his two goals less than three minutes into the first period. Carl Hagelin tied it 10 minutes later and Evgeni Malkin got a goal 1:19 into the second period before Cooke added his second score 72 seconds later to give the Penguins a 3-1 advantage. New York’s Marian Gaborik narrowed the gap with his 35th goal of the season 5 1/2 minutes before the end of the period.
Crosby Gets Assist
The Penguins dominated the third period and scored through Chris Kunitz, whose goal was assisted by Crosby and James Neal, and Pascal Dupuis.
“We had some struggles on the back end as far as their quickness and they capitalized,” Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters. “We were gaining momentum in the second, at the end of the second, but it doesn’t take them too many chances to score some goals and they certainly showed that tonight.”
Crosby, 24, sustained head injuries in last year’s Jan. 1 Winter Classic against the Washington Capitals and again four days later against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He missed the rest of the 2010-11 NHL season.
Crosby returned to the ice this season for eight games until he was sidelined when concussion-like symptoms returned during a game against Boston on Dec. 5. After that collision, he was diagnosed with a soft-tissue injury in his neck.
After winning their first two games against the Penguins this season, New York has lost three in a row to its rival. The teams meet for the last time in the regular season on April 5 in Pittsburgh.
“We get them one more time,” Rangers center Brad Richards said. “We’re still in first place and we’re still a good team.”
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