Sidney Crosby reaches 1,000 assists, keeps Penguins on the rise

PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby is too consumed at this moment to think about the history he's making. He was so focused on trying to push a Pittsburgh Penguins team to a playoff berth that a month ago seemed unlikely considering the weight of everything he had done.

Moreover, there's really no need. The heights Crosby is reaching now are the kind reserved not just for the greatest of his era, but the greatest of all time.

The latest proof came Thursday against Detroit, when the longtime Penguins captain became the 14th NHL player to reach 1,000 assists and the 10th all-time leading scorer with a single backhander.

It ended with Crosby's deft feed to the slot on teammate Erik Karlsson's stick. The defenseman did the rest, turning in a shot from Alex Leon 1:40 into overtime to give the Penguins a 6-5 win that vaulted them over Washington into second place in the Eastern Conference.

“He plays his best when the stakes are high like all the greats who have ever played the game,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He's one of those guys.”

Crosby became the seventh player to record 1,000 assists with a single franchise, joining Ray Burke (1,111 with Boston), Wayne Gretzky (1,086 with Edmonton), Steve Yzerman (1,063 with Detroit), Mario Lemieux (1,033 with Pittsburgh), and Gordie Howe (1,023). . With Detroit) and Joe Sakic (1016 with Colorado/Quebec).

He also required the seventh-fewest number of matches to reach this number, at 1,269 matches.

Crosby finished with a goal and two assists Thursday to push his career total to 1,591, one more than Hall of Famer Phil Esposito. Sakic is ninth with 1,641, while Lemieux is eighth with 1,723 and Crosby's childhood star, Yzerman, is seventh with 1,755.

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Given the way Crosby is playing at 36 years old, if he stays healthy, it's a matter of when, not when.

“I didn't look at it closely,” Crosby said. “But to be in that company with all those players you mentioned, it means a lot. I grew up watching those players.”

It's a bit like the way Crosby's teammates sometimes find themselves watching No. 87 and shaking their heads at what they see. Crosby collected his 999th first-period assist on Drew O'Connor's goal and Esposito tied the scorers with a nice redirection at the left post.

He grabbed a rebound off Rickard Rakell's shot in the extra period and dumped the puck onto an open piece of ice, giving Karlsson enough space to score his 10th goal as the Penguins improved to 7-0-3 in their last 10 games. It's a breakthrough that few could have predicted a month ago when they were languishing in 13th place in the East.

They are now in eighth place with three games to play, thanks in large part to Crosby, who was named the club's player of the year by his teammates for the 12th time earlier in the day.

The 36-year-old certainly plays that way.

“He's a big part of our game and a big reason we're in the position we're in,” Carlson said of Crosby. “And we're going to need him to play like that here to have a chance.”

Kris Letang and Jeff Carter each scored their 10th goals for Pittsburgh. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 25 shots as the Penguins overcame another late collapse as they blew a two-goal lead in the third period again.

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It's been a problem all season. However, Pittsburgh recovered this time to take control of its playoff destiny.

“We are looking for ways to win now,” Nedeljkovic said. “They're not always going to be pretty. You'd like them to be a little nicer than that, but you know, like I said, we're going to get two points tonight.”

Pittsburgh was nine points out of a postseason berth two weeks ago. Crosby and Nedeljkovic had a surprising late run as the Penguins quickly closed the floor on Washington, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Now, they've surpassed all three.

The Red Wings' hopes of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 took another hit with their third loss in four games.

Lucas Raymond earned his second career hat-trick with Detroit. Jeff Petrie, a former Penguin, added his third goal of the season. Dylan Larkin scored his 33rd goal for the Red Wings. Lyon made 21 saves, but was unable to stop Karlsson late as the Penguins took the extra point.

“It's hard to get one point,” Larkin said. “Again, they have two teams and this is a team we need to catch up with. The positive thing is not to give up. They played well and we are there.”

The game had a postseason feel from the opening faceoff, a marked contrast from a month ago when PPG Paints Arena looked like a library at times with the Penguins slipping and the chances of making the playoffs remote at best.

Those odds have improved dramatically behind Crosby's continued form and the emergence of Nedeljkovic, who was signed in the offseason as the back-up behind Tristan Jarry, but has found himself a regular starter in the back of the net during the most crucial period of the season.

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Nedeljkovic downplayed his role, instead referring to the player who defined the franchise for a generation.

“It's been something special, especially the last few weeks, just watching him play,” Nedeljkovic said of Crosby. “He's a man on a mission.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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