An eventful night for Sidney Crosby, who was brilliant for Penguins

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PITTSBURGH — Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t even a minute old when Sidney Crosby put his stamp on it.

In a flash, Crosby took a pass and split the Nashville defense. He forced Ryan Ellis to take a holding penalty, got past him anyway, then whipped a shot off the post. No goal there, but the Penguins would score moments later on the resulting power play. They’d go on to hammer the Predators, 6-0.

It was a masterful performance by the Penguins captain, who finished with three assists and literally rubbed P.K. Subban’s face in it. Pittsburgh can win the Cup Sunday in Music City. If not there, then Game 7 will be Wednesday back at PPG Paints Arena.

“We had a great start,” said Crosby. “Wanted to make sure that we played on our toes. Obviously, getting a few goals helps, and then we followed up in the second. That’s how we need to play.”

They sure didn’t play that way in the first four games, even though they won the first two. Game 5 was by far their best performance of the series. It was a dominant victory.

Oddly enough, Game 4 might’ve been their second best, even though they lost it by three goals.

“There was a lot to like about that game,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “We felt as though there was a lot to like about that game. I think sometimes people can get fooled by the scores of games, but we don’t. We understand it. And I think we try to keep an objective assessment of our games.”

“I think we turned the page,” added Crosby. “Looking at (Game 4), we felt like we still generated some good chances. We felt if we did a few things differently and buried those chances, we’d give ourselves a chance to win.”

Oh, and for the record, Crosby didn’t intentionally throw that water bottle.

“I made a gesture and it came flying out of my hands,” he explained. “I didn’t try to throw it. I know it ends up on the ice, but I wouldn’t start throwing water bottles at this point. I remember being surprised when it came out of my hands and thinking, ‘Great.’ But I have a better arm than that.”

It was a nasty Game 5, in an increasingly nasty series. Near the end of the first period, Crosby got mixed up behind the net with Subban. The two stars went to the ice and skirmished for a few seconds. They each received two minutes for holding.

What happened during that skirmish depends on who you asked.

“He lost his stick, and he was doing some sort of UFC move on my foot,” said Crosby. “I don’t know what he was trying to do. I was trying to get out of there. He had lost his stick and was just trying to hold me down. I was in some sort of lock there. I don’t know what it was.”

Predators head coach Peter Laviolette saw things rather differently.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “I don’t understand the call. I saw my guy get his head cross-checked in the ice ten times. I don’t even know what he did, P.K. I’m not sure. I disagree with the call.”

Alas, neither Crosby nor Subban bit when asked if things had gotten personal between the two. They may have diametrically different personalities — one shunning the attention, the other craving it — but each chose diplomacy over escalation.

“Everyone’s out there trying to compete,” said Crosby. “He’s trying to do his job and I’m trying to do mine.”

“It’s just hockey,” said Subban. “It’s just hockey.”

And so we head back to Nashville, where you know it’s going to be nuts. On Sunday, the Penguins can become the first repeat champs of the salary-cap era. Or, the home team will win again and the Stanley Cup Final will have its first Game 7 since 2011.

As for Game 5, it may well be remembered as the game that Crosby won on his very first shift.

“I just think what separates him is his drive,” said Sullivan. “I don’t know that I’ve been around an athlete, not just a hockey player but an athlete, that is as driven as Sid is.”

The Buzzer: Spezza bounces back after healthy scratch; another injury for Predators

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Player Of The Night: Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars

On Monday night the Dallas Star made veteran forward Jason Spezza a healthy scratch as he was mired in a lengthy goal-scoring drought. The Stars wanted to see more from him, and they knew he could provide more.

When he stepped back into the lineup on Tuesday night against the Detroit Red Wings he did exactly that by scoring a pair of goals in the Stars’ 4-2 win.

Even though Spezza had been struggling to put points on the board he was still doing an excellent job when it came to driving possession and generating shots, as well as the fact the team was outscoring its opponents when he was on the ice. His ice-time has been cut significantly this season, but he was doing enough to suggest that it was only a matter of time until he got back into the goal column.

He snapped out of it in a big way on Tuesday.

Another big injury for Nashville

The Nashville Predators are already playing without two of their top forwards with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson sidelined.

They lost another one on Tuesday night in their 1-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights when Ryan Johanson had to leave the game after taking a high hit from William Carrier.

Johanson left the game and did not return. There was no penalty called on the play.

Predators coach Peter Laviolette had no update on Johansen after the game and said they were given an explanation that it was a clean hit.

The Predators ended up winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Kevin Fiala and 43 saves from Jusse Saros.

Highlight Of The Night

Not much in the way of highlight reel plays tonight, but here is a big goal from Vince Dunn to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Factoid Of The Night

A big milestone for New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as he picks up his 20th win of the season.

Scores

New Jersey Devils 4, New York Islanders 1

New York Rangers 5, Philadelphia Flyers 1

Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1

Nashville Predators 1, Vegas Golden Knights 0

San Jose Sharks 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Report: Blackhawks concerned Crawford could miss remainder of season

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Here is some less than encouraging news for the Chicago Blackhawks.

According to a report from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday night, there is some growing concern within the Blackhawks organization that starting goaltender Corey Crawford could miss the remainder of the season due to experiencing vertigo-like symptoms for the second time in his career.

Crawford has been sidelined since before Christmas due to an upper-body injury, but the team has been quiet on specifics other than to say publicly that they expect him to return this season.

Over the past few years Crawford has become one of the NHL’s top goalies and when he has been on the ice this season has been absolutely stellar for the Blackhawks. Given the current state of their defense and the rate that they give up shots he has become one of the team’s most important players and the one that seems to drive their success more than any other.

[Related: Corey Crawford has become the Blackhawks’ most important player]

In his absence the team has leaned on Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Both have played about as well as could have been expected, but they aren’t Crawford and there is a noticeable drop in play at the position when he is not in there.

In 26 games this season Crawford is 16-9-2 with a .929 save percentage.

As of Tuesday night the Blackhawks are on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture, sitting three points back of the Minnesota Wild. They also have the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche sitting between them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rick Nash snaps out of slump, powers Rangers to huge win

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The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers are two of the teams in the middle of the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoff race that had five teams separated by just three points heading into Tuesday night.

Both teams had been rolling in opposite directions over the past week with the Flyers having won four in a row and five of their past six, while the Rangers were riding a three-game losing skid and had lost four out of five.

Their past two losses coming out of the bye week were especially ugly, losing to the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins (two other teams they are competing with) by a combined score of 12-4.

Both the Rangers’ and Flyers’ streaks came to an end in their game on Tuesday with the Rangers picking up a huge 5-1 win.

Rick Nash was the big star for the Rangers on Tuesday with a pair of goals, including a breakaway goal in the first period to tie the game at one after the Rangers gave up an early goal. It was a big performance for Nash because he had been mired in a brutal slump that had seen him go 12 consecutive games without a goal. He also had just one assist during that stretch. That slump has contributed to a down year offensively that has him on track for one of the least productive seasons of his career.

But he came through in a big way on Tuesday to help give the Rangers two huge points and move them three points ahead of the Flyers. The Flyers still have one game in hand while the two teams will still play three more games the rest of the season.

The Rangers’ win on Tuesday, combined with the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, moves the Rangers back into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference for the time being.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Predators place forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Nashville Predators have placed forward Viktor Arvidsson on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and recalled forward Frederick Gaudreau from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

The Predators made the move Tuesday afternoon.

Arvidsson was helped off the ice Monday during practice, and The Tennessean reports he tested himself during Tuesday morning’s skate.

The forward ranks third on the Predators with 13 goals and fourth with 27 points. The Predators already have Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury.

Gaudreau has played 18 games with the Predators with three assists. He had 14 points in 21 games with the Admirals this season.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey