The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 17, 2013

Crosby’s goal lifts Penguins

PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby’s 19th goal of the season broke a tie with just over 6 minutes remaining and the Pittsburgh Penguins edged the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Monday night.

Crosby took a centering pass from Pascal Dupuis and beat Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier to the stick side to boost his point total to a league-leading 47.

Chris Conner and Brandon Sutter also scored for the Penguins, who were playing without a number of regulars, including forward Evgeni Malkin.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots for Pittsburgh to improve to 27-3 in his past 30 home starts. Pittsburgh has won four straight and nine of 10.

Morgan Rielly scored the first goal of his career for the Maple Leafs. Bernier made 28 saves, but couldn’t stop Toronto from losing for the fourth time in its past five games.

The Penguins have a firm grip on the top of the Metropolitan Division despite an injured reserve list that seems to be growing by the day.

Kris Letang joined fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik (concussion), Paul Martin (broken leg) and Rob Scuderi (broken ankle) on the IR Monday with an upper-body injury of his own, forcing Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma to get creative with his pairings.

Rookie Philip Samuelsson, whose father Ulf won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Penguins in the early 1990s, made his NHL debut against the Maple Leafs. The younger Samuelsson was part of a defense that included four first-year players and one second-year player along with veteran Matt Niskanen.

The young legs, however, wasted little time getting comfortable.

Brian Dumoulin helped give the Penguins a quick 1-0 lead, collecting the puck near the point then firing it on net, allowing Conner to jab it by Bernier for his third goal of the season 39 seconds into the game.

The tally seemed to embolden Pittsburgh, which controlled play for long stretches in the first period, keeping Bernier busy while the defense did a fine job of neutralizing Toronto’s speedy counterattack.

The Maple Leafs tied it 6:03 into the second as Rielly, the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, skated through the Pittsburgh zone and beat Fleury over the goaltender’s right shoulder for the highly regarded defenseman’s first career goal.

The power-play score ended the Penguins’ streak of 18 consecutive penalty kills, though the score had less to do with any kind of breakdown and more to do with Rielly’s wicked wrist shot.

Toronto kept the pressure on well into the third period, but Pittsburgh regained control after killing off a charging penalty on Robert Bortuzzo. The 6-foot-4 defenseman, who has struggled to crack the lineup, even picked up his first point of the season on Crosby’s winner.

The Maple Leafs won the draw deep in their zone but Bortuzzo knocked down the clearing attempt then fed the puck up the wall to Dupuis, who slipped a quick pass to Crosby between the circles.

One flick of the wrist later, Crosby had extended his point streak to seven games. Sutter’s short-handed empty net goal with 3 seconds left sealed it and the Penguins remained hot while the Maple Leafs couldn’t back up a promising 7-3 romp over defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago on Saturday night.

NOTES: Toronto finished 1 of 5 on the power play. ... The Penguins are 13-1 when leading after the first period. ... Pittsburgh has won eight straight games at Consol Energy Center. ... The Penguins host Minnesota on Thursday night. ... The Maple Leafs begin a three-game homestand on Tuesday against Florida.

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