PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby again picked up the slack with Evgeni Malkin out, getting his 10th career hat trick Sunday and leading the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Florida Panthers 4-0.
Crosby’s natural hat trick came in a span of 11 minutes between the second and the third period, pushing his goal total to an NHL-high 40 and moving him into a tie with Edmonton’s Conner McDavid for the league scoring lead with 80 points. Linemates Conor Sheary and Jake Guentzel assisted on all three of Crosby’s goals.
Patric Hornqvist added his 18th of the season for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 21 shots for his 44th career shutout. The Penguins remained one point behind Columbus for second place in the Metropolitan Division behind Washington.
Florida’s Jaromir Jagr joined Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Ron Francis as only players in NHL history to play in 1,700 games but the Panthers saw their fading playoff hopes take another hit. Reimer finished with 24 saves but received little help from those in front of him.
Jagr received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at PPG Paints Arena, a rarity in a place where he spent the first 806 games of his career while helping the Penguins to two Stanley Cups as a free-wheeling, fabulously mulleted 20-something who remains the second-leading scorer in franchise history behind mentor Mario Lemieux.
A quarter century later, Jagr’s mullet remains. So does the flair. The 45-year-old broke Howe’s record for most points by a player in his 40s when he picked up two assists on Friday against the New York Rangers to give him 269 since his 40th birthday.
Needing a spark to salvage his team’s dwindling prospects of making the playoffs, Jagr instead watched as Crosby did what he always tends to do when Malkin is out: dominate. Malkin missed his second straight game while dealing with what the team is calling a minor upper-body injury.
Playing for the 102nd time in the regular season without Malkin’s familiar No. 71 in the lineup, Crosby found a way to take over by himself.
He poured in two goals and an assist in a 6-4 victory over New Jersey on Friday and a pair of pretty plays late in the second period gave the Penguins control for good, though the two-time MVP doesn’t get credit for the most inventive goal of the day. That came in the first period when Phil Kessel found himself behind the Florida net and flipped a pass in the air over the net to the front of the crease that Hornqvist batted out of the air and by Reimer like something out of batting practice at a baseball game.
Fleury kept the lead intact long enough for Crosby to take over. His first came on a wrist shot from the left circle 14:15 into the second. His second came less than two minutes later when he pirouetted in traffic and flipped a backhander past Reimer. His third five minutes into the third came when the Panthers left Crosby alone in the crease. Reimer had no chance for the wrist shot from in close as the Penguins continued the season-long staring contest with Columbus and Washington in the league’s most competitive division.
NOTES: This is the second time in Crosby’s career he’s reached 40 goals. He posted a career-high 51 in 2009-10. … Linesman David Briesbois left in the first period after getting accidentally run over by Hornqvist after dropping a face off but returned to start the second. … Both teams went 0 for 4 on the power play.
Panthers: start a three-game homestand on Tuesday against Carolina.
Penguins: Visit Buffalo on Tuesday. The Penguins rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat the Sabres 4-3 on March 5.
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