Penguins' Crosby has a 'grand' night against Winnipeg
Sets up Chris Kunitz in 1st period to hit 1,000-point milestone then scores winner in OT
Sidney Crosby ended his march to 1,000 career points in typically unselfish fashion. The Pittsburgh Penguins star wasted little time before starting his quest for the next thousand.
The Pittsburgh captain 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.
point #1,000 <a href="https://t.co/fgrUgIIjMg">pic.twitter.com/fgrUgIIjMg</a>—@myregularface
Crosby finished with three points to push his total 1,002. Evgeni Malkin also scored for Pittsburgh, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 44 shots for the Penguins, who improved to 6-0-2 since the all-star break.
Patrik Laine scored his 27th for Winnipeg. Paul Postma collected his first and Dustin Byfuglien his eighth for the Jets. Hellebuyck made 35 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Crosby's 31st of the season and 369th goal of his career.
On the milestone assist, the sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena erupted when Crosby outworked Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler to get to a loose puck in the left circle then slid it over to Kunitz in the slot. Kunitz powered it into the wide open net to give Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead, and Crosby saluted the crowd during the next stoppage in play. Crosby is the third Penguin to reach 1,000 points with the franchise, joining Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
The moment is not only a testament to Crosby's brilliance but also something equally as important: longevity. It's something the two-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Hart Trophy winner and two-time Olympic gold medallist does not take for granted.
A collision with Washington's David Steckel during the 2011 Winter Classic left Crosby concussed and brought the star's career to an abrupt halt. He missed the better part of two calendar years trying to recover, and the long days in solitude left him wondering if he'd ever return to the level that made him the face of the sport.
And Crosby wasn't the only one.
"I think there were a lot of question marks about the future and how his career would go from there," said Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, who coach Crosby in Pittsburgh from 2009-14. "I think in pretty short order after that two-year period of time, he got back to being the player who I think has been great for all of us to see him be, which is the best player in the league. He's proven it again."
Emphatically. When he was diagnosed with another concussion last October, he pleaded patience rather than anxiousness. He sat out the first six games of the season but returned with a vengeance. He leads the league in goals and is on pace to surpass his personal best of 51 he put up in 2009-10.
"When you get major injuries like he had, to battle back, it's not easy," San Jose captain Joe Thornton said. "Concussions, you know, yeah, you don't know if you're going to come back or not."
The puck from his 1,000th point will eventually end up in the hands of Crosby's father Troy, the designated curator of his son's ever increasing cache of memorabilia. It's a decision they made together after Crosby admittedly did little to keep track of things when he piled up achievements at a ridiculous rate when he literally was Sid the Kid.
He's become more appreciative of them as they come. Even though he's still firmly in his prime at 29, he's well aware that nothing is guaranteed.
"I understand that when you get to those numbers as you get older, only so many cracks you have at certain ones like that," Crosby said last week.
So Crosby will skate on, relieved that the countdown to 1,000 is over and eager to get back to his real mission: defending the Stanley Cup he led the Penguins to last June.