|Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save against the Leafs during first period action at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh on Sunday. (QMI Agency)
PITTSBURGH - It doesn’t matter if it’s a red one on his own chest or a blue one on an opponent. Put a Maple Leaf in front of Sidney Crosby and watch him go.
The Penguins captain scored a pair of goals and a crucial one in the shootout to lead the Penguins to a 5-4 shootout win over the Leafs putting him in the shadow of 50 goals for the first time in his career.
Four weeks to the day that he scored the golden goal to give Canada the win at the Olympics, Crosby scored his 46th and 47th of the season to thwart another solid effort by the young Leafs.
“I asked at the bench what he does (in a shootout) and I got eight different answers,” Leafs goalie G.S. Giguere said. “He’s that good of a player.
“He’s very explosive. When he gets the puck, you always have to be ready. He can go so quickly or shoot it and he can probably pass it better than anybody in the league.”
The Leafs looked like they were going to pull off the upset against the Penguins, who were without two of their best players - defenceman Sergei Gonchar and sniper Evgeni Malkin. Tyler Bozak’s power-play goal with 5:38 remaining gave the Leafs a 4-3 lead. But the Penguins continued to surge and tied it up at 17:12 of the final period when Matt Cooke deflected a shot from the point by Brooks Orpik.
The loss snapped the Leafs seven-game win streak in games that had gone to extra time.
“I don’t really look at it as a loss, especially in these circumstances with three games in four nights and back to back games in less than 24 hours,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “I thought we did a great job. It’s too bad we didn’t do it in regulation.”
Crosby could have had an even bigger night as he was twice stopped on breakaways by Giguere. Both of his goals came from prime positions in the slot as the Leafs inexplicably gave him room to weave his magic.
In the shootout, he stormed in on Giguere and roofed the puck past the Leafs netminder, who faced 45 shots.
“His skill level and some of the stuff he does at full speed, I wouldn’t attempt standing still,” Cooke said. “He never ceases to amaze me. When he can get some space, it’s amazing what he can accomplish.”
It was a night of accomplishment for one Leaf. Forward Phil Kessel scored his 30th of the season, not bad for a guy who missed training camp and the first 12 games of the season as he recovered from shoulder surgery.
Kessel became just the third Leaf to hit 30 this decade when he beat Fleury. Only Mats Sundin (mutliple times) and Alex Mogilny (once) had reached that total in recent years for the Leafs.
Crosby, meanwhile, has had a knack of having big games against the Leafs - he now has 14 goals and 18 assists in 20 games. His 47 goals on the season regained the league scoring lead as Crosby had been tied with Tampa’s Steve Stamkos at 45.