PITTSBURGH â€” Sidney Crosby’s pursuit for 1,000 career points hit a speed bump â€” not to mention a couple of posts â€” against Calgary’s Chad Johnson.
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain picked up point No. 998 with a third-period assist, but Johnson and the Flames recovered after blowing a two-goal lead for a 3-2 shootout victory on Tuesday night.
Johnson stopped 31 shots, including three from Crosby, and then turned away Crosby and Phil Kessel in the shootout as the Flames picked up two valuable points in the crowded chase for one of the final playoff spots in the wide-open Western Conference.
Kris Versteeg scored the only goal in the shootout, a beautiful deke that left Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray sprawled badly out of position.
“Sometimes you close your eyes and it goes in,” Versteeg said. “So, I was lucky there.”
Michael Frolik scored his 13th goal of the season for the Flames and Micheal Ferland added his eighth. It was Johnson, however, who did the heavy lifting. He stopped Crosby on the doorstep in the second period and again in the shootout as the Flames won for the fourth time in their last five games.
“You’re just kind of in the moment,” Johnson said. “I try not to worry too much who I’m going against. You just try to be in position and be patient.”
Crosby inched closer to becoming the 86th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 points when he set up Chris Kunitz’s third-period goal for career point No. 998. Rookie forward Jake Guentzel forced overtime with his fifth of the season with just under five minutes remaining. Murray made 28 saves but had no chance on Versteeg’s beautiful deke in the shootout.
“We gave them their opportunities,” Crosby said. “I think we had more than enough chances to win the game. I think we deserved better tonight. Got back into it, but I thought by far we had the better scoring chances.”
Crosby’s next shot at joining the exclusive club is Thursday in Colorado. The 29-year-old two-time MVP, whose 30 goals this season lead the league, has gained an appreciation for his impending milestone but also wants to get it over with so the focus can shift back to the Penguins chasing down Metropolitan Division-leading Washington.
Johnson did his best to delay the party. Crosby had a pair of opportunities just outside the crease turned away by Johnson in the second period and then watched a shot from the left circle early in the third clang off the near post and then the far post before skittering out of danger.
“Had some really good looks, open nets,” Crosby said. “Goalie made some really big saves, hit some posts. That’s going to happen sometimes.”
Kunitz’s score halved a two-goal deficit, one provided by some effective counterpunching by the Flames.
Ferland tipped away a crossing pass by Crosby in the defensive zone then broke in alone on Murray, flipping the puck over the goalie’s glove 16:19 into the second period for his third goal in five games. Frolik doubled the lead just over two minutes later, completing a perfectly executed 3-on-2 break by taking a feed from Matthew Tkachuk and firing it into the empty net.
No matter. The Penguins recovered to salvage a point. Letang forced a turnover at the point then banked a pass off the boards to Crosby, who fed it to Kunitz for his seventh of the season 5:51 into the third. Guentzel tied it at 15:04 when he powered a shot from the right circle by Johnson.
The Penguins, however, couldn’t quite get over the top.
“They were coming the whole game,” Johnson said. “That’s their style, so it made it interesting at the end there, unfortunately. But we got the two points.”
NOTES: Pittsburgh F Scott Wilson exited due to an injury with 4:12 left in the second period and did not return. … Calgary went 0 for 4 on the power play, including one in overtime. Pittsburgh went 0 for 2 with the man advantage. … Penguins C Evgeni Malkin wore a non-contact jersey while skating with his teammates on Tuesday morning but missed his fifth straight game with a lower-body injury. … Pittsburgh scratched F Carl Hagelin, who is in the concussion protocol after getting hit in Saturday’s victory in St. Louis.
Flames: Get a chance to rest up during their bye week before welcoming Arizona on Feb. 13.
Penguins: The trip to Colorado begins a road-heavy portion of Pittsburgh’s schedule. The Penguins will play 11 of their next 17 away from PPG Paints Arena.
Will Graves, The Associated Press