BOSTON — Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist, James Neal scored the go-ahead goal on a power play, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Boston Bruins 5-3 on Tuesday night.
In Pittsburgh’s first game since a late brawl Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, Crosby gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 7:41 in. He made it 4-2 with 1:11 left in the second period with his club’s second power-play goal in 48 seconds.
The Penguins maintained their one-point lead for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference over the Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to the New York Rangers 5-3. The Bruins, who clinched the Northeast Division title on Sunday night, are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.
Paul Martin and Arron Asham scored Pittsburgh’s other goals. Benoit Pouliot, Milan Lucic and Rich Peverley scored for Boston.
Earlier Tuesday, hockey analyst Mike Milbury apologized for critical comments he made about Crosby. On a Philadelphia radio station on Monday, Milbury called Crosby “a punk” and criticized his role in the lead-up to the brawl with just over a minute left in Philadelphia’s 6-4 win.
The fighting resulted in 52 penalty minutes and began, in part, with Flyers forward Brayden Schenn’s cross-check to Crosby.
“I don’t know what he’s looking for, if he’s looking for attention. I don’t know what it is,” Crosby said of Milbury before Tuesday’s game. “I really don’t know where that came from. He’s pretty good at twisting things around, that’s for sure.”
Against the Bruins, Crosby went back to doing what he does best — sparking the Penguins’ offense. He has five goals and 17 assists in 12 games since returning from concussion-like symptoms that have limited him to 20 games this season.
His first goal came when he flipped the puck over goalie Marty Turco from the left side after taking a pass from Pascal Dupuis with each team having a player in the penalty box.
Martin made it 2-0 at 14:58 of the period. He shot the puck from the left and kept skating in as Turco saved it. As he was being dragged down by Johnny Boychuk, the puck deflected off Martin’s glove and into the net for his second goal of the season. The goal was upheld after a video review.
Pouliot cut the lead in half two minutes later with his 15th goal on a backhander from low in the right circle. Lucic tied it 18 seconds into the second period with his 25th goal. David Krejci collected a rebound just in front of the crease, and backhanded the puck to Lucic, who fired it quickly past goalie Brent Johnson.
But when Daniel Paille was called for charging at 17:20, and Peverley followed him into the penalty box on a high-sticking call 9 seconds later, the Penguins had a two-man advantage.
It took them just 42 seconds to break the tie on Neal’s 40th goal. Crosby, standing on the goal line to the left of the net, passed into the crease where it went by Penguins forward Chris Kunitz. But Neal was right behind him to score from 10 feet.
Less than a minute later, Crosby scored his seventh of the season from the lower left circle after Kris Letang sent him a pass from the right side.
Asham made it 5-2 at 6:15 of the third, and Peverley scored two minutes later.
RANGERS 5, FLYERS 3: Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov scored as part of a four-goal first period, and the New York Rangers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since 1994 with a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
The Rangers are tops in the East for the first time since Mark Messier led them to their last Stanley Cup championship 18 years ago. The Rangers, who lead the overall NHL standings with 109 points, are assured of home-ice advantage until at least the Stanley Cup finals.
The Rangers are atop the East thanks to a stunning series sweep of the Atlantic Division-rival Flyers. They went 6-0 against Philadelphia for the first time in 40 years.
Ryan McDonagh and Brian Boyle also scored to help the Rangers storm to a 4-0 lead. Marian Gaborik added his 41st goal, and Henrik Lundqvist earned his career-best 39th victory.
The Rangers have ridden the All-Star Lundqvist all the way to the top, and he was sensational again in the clincher. It was Rangers defenseman Marc Staal who knocked the puck past him for the first Philadelphia goal. Staal kicked the puck with his left skate under Lundqvist’s right leg in the second to make it 4-1. Jakub Voracek got credit for the goal.
Lundqvist solidified his Vezina Trophy credentials with 37 saves in his milestone victory.
First place is rare air for a team that has won only two postseason series since 1998. Owner James Dolan made an atypical visit to the postgame news conference in January and proclaimed the Rangers Stanley Cup contenders.
“I think we’re pretty close to getting that back,” Dolan said of the Stanley Cup.
Ilya Bryzgalov was a sparkling 10-2-1 in March and chosen as the NHL’s first star, but he sat out the previous three games because of a chip fracture in his right foot. In his return, he had Flyers fans wishing he missed one more.
McDonagh took Gaborik’s feed from behind the net and scored his seventh goal of the season 6:25 in. Boyle followed with his 10th, and Anisimov and Callahan both scored on the power play for a 4-0 lead that quieted an oddly sparse crowd for Philadelphia.
Unable to solve Lundqvist, the Flyers took out their frustrations with their fists. Zac Rinaldo slugged it out with New York’s Brandon Prust in a lengthy bout the refs were in no rush to stop. Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley used a series of rights to the face to pummel Mike Rupp.
The teams kept up the trash-talking, pushing and poking for the rest of the game.
All the scrapping helped both teams score power-play goals in the final 90 seconds of the second. Gaborik a shot from the slot past two defenders for a 5-1 lead. Wayne Simmonds, wearing a visor after he was hit in the face by a puck last week, followed for the Flyers with his 28th goal.
Andreas Lilja added a goal in the third, but it was too late for Philadelphia.
The Rangers won the first five meetings with Philadelphia by Feb. 11, including a 2-1 victory in the Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.
Dating to last season, the Rangers have seven straight wins against the Flyers for the first time since Philadelphia went 13 games without a win from November 1971 to December 1973.
The Flyers have been fired up lately. Coach Peter Laviolette was fined $10,000 on Monday after calling out Penguins counterpart Dan Bylsma for sending out his checking line late in Philadelphia’s 6-3 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Notes: Flyers C Danny Briere sat out with a back contusion. … This is the latest point in the season the Rangers have been in first place in the East since 1993-94. … The Rangers are 21-3-3 when leading after the first period. … Gaborik has a point in six straight games.