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Penguins Keep Playoff Hopes Alive, 5-1; Crosby Hits 1,500



DETROIT — The Pittsburgh Penguins climbed back into the Eastern Conference playoff field Saturday afternoon.

For at least a few hours, anyway.

Their 5-1 victory against Detroit at Little Caesars Arena lifted them over Florida and the New York Islanders and into the first wild-card spot in the East.

However, the Panthers and Islanders, both of whom slipped one point behind the Penguins, were scheduled to play later in the day and needed just a loss in overtime or a shootout to reclaim a wild-card berth, because they own the regulation-victories tiebreaker over the Penguins.

The victory was the Penguins’ second in a row, just the second time since March 2 that they have won consecutive games.

While the victory was of paramount importance in keeping the Penguins’ playoff hopes alive, Sidney Crosby made some major history by becoming the 15th player in NHL history to put up 1,500 points in his career.

Crosby had two goals and an assist in the first 43-plus minutes to reach that milestone. He did it in 1,188 games, fewer than all but five players in NHL history.

Drew O’Connor, who had been manning the left side on the fourth line, did not play, apparently because of a high hit he absorbed against Minnesota Thursday, and that prompted Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan to reconfigure his bottom-six.

Ryan Poehling centered Mikael Granlund and Alex Nylander, an emergency recall from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Friday, on the No. 3 unit, while Jeff Carter was between Danton Heinen and Josh Archibald on the fourth line.

Adding Nylander, who had been limited to one assist in his previous six games with the Penguins, to the lineup didn’t take long to pay off, as he threw a shot past goalie Ville Husso’s stick from the slot at 9:25 to put the Penguins up, 1-0.

Assists on the goal went to Mikael Granlund and Jeff Carter.

The Penguins had recorded the only shot by either team during the first six-plus minutes of play, but the Red Wings subsequently ran off four in a row before the sequence that ended with Nylander’s first goal in the NHL since March 11, 2020.

Nylander then drew a holding minor from Red Wings defenseman Robert Hagg at 14:46, but the Penguins failed to capitalize on that chance.

No real surprise there, since they entered the game with the NHL’s 29th-ranked road power play, converting just 15.8 percent of its opportunities.

One minute after Hagg returned, Nylander returned the favor, taking a holding penalty of his own, but the Penguins were able to kill it off.

They picked some up potentially important insurance as the period was about to end.

Jake Guentzel harassed Detroit defenseman Jake Walman into turning over the puck in front of Husso, and Crosby pounced on it and flipped in a backhander at 19:57 for his 32nd of the season.

The goal was Crosby’s 1,498th career point.

No. 1,499 came at 11:16 of the second period, when Danton Heinen swatted a Crosby rebound out of the air and into the net to make it 3-0.

But the Penguins, who have made a habit of giving up goals almost immediately after they score one this season, did it again less than a minute later, as Pius Suter tapped a cross-crease feed from Andrew Copp into an essentially empty net behind Tristan Jarry at 11:58.

An ill-considered pinch by Kris Letang allowed Detroit to get the odd-man rush that culminated in Suter’s goal.

Crosby got his milestone goal during a power play at 3:01 of the third period, putting a shot over Husso’s glove for his 550th in the NHL.

Letang and Guentzel received the assists.

While Crosby’s second of the day pretty much removed any doubt about the outcome, Evgeni Malkin eliminated any that lingered when he knocked in a Jason Zucker rebound from the front lip of the crease at 13:00 for his 26th.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a scheduled day off Sunday, and plan to practice Monday at 11 a.m. at PPG Paints Arena.