PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby wasn’t sure Bryan Rust saw him, so the Pittsburgh Penguins captain gave his impromptu linemate a quick yell just to make sure.
“I tried to let him know I was there,” Crosby said.
A deft drop pass from Rust and a flick of Crosby’s wrist later, the superstar’s lengthy postseason scoring drought was over. So were the chances of the Penguins falling into a deep hole against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals.
Crosby’s shot sailed high and hard over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s stick 40 seconds into overtime on Monday night, lifting the Penguins to a 3-2 victory and tying the best-of-seven series at 1-1. Game 3 is Wednesday night in Tampa.
“It feels good to get rewarded,” Crosby said after collecting the first overtime playoff winner of his NHL career. “I feel we deserved it tonight.”
Crosby hadn’t found the back of the net since Game 4 of the opening round against the New York Rangers, though Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper downplayed the idea that the two-time MVP was in a slump, pointing out a cold streak for Crosby is a hot streak for most others in the league.
Yet most others aren’t Crosby. In danger of heading south down 2-0, Crosby generated scoring chance after scoring chance, including a backhand in the second period that appeared destined for an open net before Vasilevskiy stretched his glove out to make a save.
Pittsburgh dominated most of the night, outshooting Tampa Bay 41-21 while spending most of the game in the Lightning’s zone. Only the brilliant play of the 21-year-old Vasilevskiy — filling in for injured starter Ben Bishop — kept Tampa Bay in it.
“He was outstanding,” Cooper said. “You never want to lose your No. 1 guy in (Bishop) but . . . Vasi was probably the reason why the game went to overtime in the first place.”
Vasilevskiy finished with 38 stops, but darted toward the dressing room after he moved too far to his left when squaring to face Crosby, giving Crosby all the room he needed to score perhaps the second-most important goal of his life after his overtime winner for Team Canada in the gold medal game of the 2010 Olympics.
That goal proved cathartic for his home country. This one could do the same for Crosby’s adopted city, one in desperate need of a Stanley Cup to bookend the one Crosby helped claim in 2009.
The Penguins still haven’t lost consecutive games of any variety since January and none with the usual allotment of men on the ice since coach Mike Sullivan’s first week on the job back in December.
“We just stayed with it,” Sullivan said. “We tried to play the game the right way. That’s what I like the most about the group. As the game wore on we got better and better.”
Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel scored during Pittsburgh’s two-goal burst to start the game and Matt Murray rebounded from a shaky start to finish with 19 saves.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5