PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the NHL’s hottest team for the better part of a month. They struggled early against the St. Louis Blues. Sidney Crosby then took over.
Crosby and Evan Rodrigues scored 12 seconds apart in the third period, and the Penguins rallied for a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.
“I thought he was in beast mode tonight,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “When he’s playing the game that way, he’s the standard bearer for the team.”
Bryan Rust scored twice and Brock McGinn also had a goal to help the Penguins win their ninth straight — their longest since a winning 15 in a row in March 2013. It is the longest active streak in the league, tying Carolina for the longest of the season. Pittsburgh is 14-2-1 in its last 17 games.
Crosby scored his fifth, Rodrigues his 14th and McGinn his ninth, as Pittsburgh scored three in the third to erase a 3-2 deficit.
“I give our players so much credit for their resilience,” Sullivan said. “Our team has been competing hard consistently. We’re not perfect. We’re striving for it.”
Casey DeSmith stopped 13 shots, but was pulled after the Blues’ third goal. He’s allowed three goals or more in 11 of his last 14 games dating back to last season. Tristan Jarry, who recently came off the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, stopped all 13 shots in relief.
Brayden Schenn returned from injury to score his fifth of the season and 200th career goal for the Blues. Jordan Kyrou stayed hot with his 13th of the season, and Colton Parayko scored his fourth. Vladimir Tarasenko had two assists to extend his point streak to six games. Jordan Binnington stopped 36 shots for the Blues, who saw a two-game win streak end with their third loss in 10 games.
“We spent most of the time in our end,” Schenn said. “They’re a team that’s fast and plays hard. We have to find ways to take over.”
Crosby scored with 7:37 left in the third to tie it 3-3. Crosby, with Niko Mikkola draped on his back, cut across the crease and knocked a rebound past Binnington. Blues coach Craig Berube challenged for goaltender interference, but Crosby’s goal stood.
“The goalie had the puck in the crease,” Berube said. “Crosby comes through the crease, His foot’s in the crease. Knocked it out of his hand and scored a goal. It’s goalie interference.”
Rodrigues gave Pittsburgh the lead for good 12 seconds later.
Things weren’t going Pittsburgh’s way early in the game, as the Penguins trailed for the first time since a loss at Edmonton on Dec. 1.
But midway through the second period, Mikkola punched Crosby and the visor cut the bridge of Crosby’s nose, which required stiches.
Minutes later, Rust scored a highlight-reel power-play goal when he knocked a rebound out of the air over Binnington’s shoulder to put Pittsburgh on the board.
Later in the third, Crosby fed Rust, who beat Binnington with a wrist shot off the rush, cutting the deficit to 3-2 and setting the stage for the Penguins’ third-period comeback.
“(Crosby) raises the intensity level for our group,” Sullivan said. “He establishes a certain expectation that flows through our bench.”
With Schenn’s return to the lineup, the Blues were their healthiest since late November. Robert Bortuzzo is the lone forward currently unavailable because of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols.
Schenn last played Dec. 12 against Anaheim, as he missed five games with an upper-body injury. He skated on the left wing alongside Ivan Barbashev and Pavel Buchnevich and played 15:25 with a goal and an assist.
Rust, who recorded a hat trick and five points against San Jose on Sunday, has five goals in his last two games. He has six goals and 13 points in his last seven games played. Rodrigues, who also had a hat trick against San Jose, has six goals and 11 points in his last eight games.
Jake Guentzel, who had two assists, has points in each of his last 15 games with 14 goals and 23 points during that span. Crosby has four goals and 19 points in his last 12 games played.
Tarasenko has six goals and 12 points during his six-game point streak. He has six multi-point efforts in his last 10 games with 16 points during that span.
Kyrou, who set a Winter Classic record with two goals and four points, has four goals and eight points in his last three games.