NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — On the opening day of the baseball season, Sidney Crosby swung and connected for the Pittsburgh Penguins, preventing the New Jersey Devils from sweeping their four-game season series with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion.
Crosby batted his own rebound out of the air and into the net 19 seconds into overtime, and the Penguins beat the Devils 4-3 on Thursday night, marking the second time in just over a week the back-to-back Conn Smythe Trophy winner has scored on a baseball swing.
“I’ve seen him do it so many times, it doesn’t surprise us anymore,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s an elite player. There aren’t too many (making) guys those types of plays. He does it time and time again. He thinks the game on such a high level and he’s such a competitor.”
Kris Letang stole Taylor Hall’s pass in the opening seconds in the Pittsburgh zone and sent Crosby on a semi-break the other way. His initial shot hit the goalpost, but then the star center pulled his hands in and swatted the puck, extending his goal-scoring streak to five games.
The tally was similar to one against Montreal last Wednesday in which Crosby juggled the puck once on his stick before smacking it from just below shoulder height.
Crosby, who has won almost every major award in the NHL, modestly downplayed his latest trick.
“I just tried to stay with it,” he said. “It’s fortunate it came back to me. I saw it go off post.”
Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin called the goal incredible.
“It kind of leaves you in awe,” he said. “I mean we see it a lot, but every time he does it and does something special it’s crazy to see and enjoyable. It just speaks to what an incredible player he is.”
Conor Sheary, Letang and Patric Hornqvist also scored for the Penguins. Matt Murray made 28 saves.
Kyle Palmieri, Hall and Blake Coleman scored for the Devils, who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Keith Kinkaid had 31 saves in losing for only the fourth time in his last 16 decisions (12-3-1).
“That’s a good team over there,” Palmieri said after the Devils remained three points in front of Florida in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. “They know how to win at this time of year. We’ll take the point and reset and shore some things up for us. It’s a big weekend for us.”
New Jersey has five games left in the regular season, one less than the Panthers, who lost 3-2 in overtime to Ottawa.
The losses by Ottawa and New Jersey clinched playoff berths for Washington and Toronto, which were both idle.
The game was tied three times, with the Penguins getting a lucky bounce on Hornqvist’s 25th goal that tied it with 8:34 left in regulation. His shot from just inside the blue line went through a maze of players, hit the goalpost and then bounced off Kinkaid’s leg into the net.
Coleman had given the Devils the lead 5:11 into the third period. He stole a puck at the Penguins’ blue line, worked a give-and-go with Travis Zajac and then put the rebound of his own shot past Murray. It was his 12th goal of the season and third against Pittsburgh.
The game was tied 1-all after the first period and 2-all after the second.
Palmieri, who has four goals in his last three games, was sent on a breakaway by Nico Hischier and beat Murray between the pads at 12:19. Sheary tied it 25 seconds later after taking a cross-ice pass by Hornqvist and beating Kinkaid in close.
Letang, who has goals in two straight, put Pittsburgh ahead 6:59 into the second period, beating Kinkaid from low in the right circle.
Hall tied the game with a power-play goal from the right circle. It was his 34th goal.
NOTES: Hischier is the first Devils’ rookie to have 50 points in a season since Adam Henrique in 2011-12. … The Penguins now have four 25-goal scorers with Hornqvist joining Evgeni Malkin (42), Phil Kessel (30) and Crosby (28). It’s the first time since 2011-12. … RW Patrick Maroon returned to the Devils’ lineup after missing two games with a lower-body injury. … Rookie RW Jesper Bratt was a healthy scratch.
Penguins: Host Montreal on Saturday.
Devils: Finish four-game home stand on Saturday against Islanders.