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Crosby, Nedeljkovic push Penguins towards unexpected playoff spot


It seemed unfathomable a month ago that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be in their current position.

When the Penguins dealt forward Jake Guentzel to the Carolina Hurricanes at the trade deadline, the team was 10 points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Guentzel was one of Pittsburgh’s most productive players, putting up 22 goals and 52 points in 50 games before the trade.

Fast forward just over a month later and the Penguins are in a playoff spot after a critical 6-5 overtime win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. The team is also 7-0-3 in the past 10 games.

Captain Sidney Crosby has been one of the biggest reasons for the resurgence. He has 41 goals and 89 points in 79 games this season, which is the highest number of goals in a campaign for him since netting 44 in 2016-17, the last time when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup.

He has nine goals and 26 points since March 9 and notched his 1,000th career assist on Erik Karlsson’s overtime winner against Detroit.

“He’s a big part of our game and he’s a big reason that we are in the situation we’re in,” Karlsson said of Crosby postgame. “And we’re going to need him playing like this down the stretch here to have a chance.”

With one goal and two assists Thursday night, Crosby also passed Phil Esposito to move into 10th on the NHL’s all-time points list.

“He plays his best when the stakes are high like all of the all-time greats that have played the game," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s one of those guys.”

One of the other key factors in this stretch for the Penguins has been the goaltending. Backup Alex Nedeljkovic has started Pittsburgh’s past 10 games during this 7-0-3 stretch. In 35 games this season, the 28-year-old is 17-6-7 with a .904 save percentage and 2.89 goals-against average.

Nedeljkovic split the 2022-23 season between the NHL and AHL with the Red Wings organization before inking a one-year deal to back up Tristan Jarry in Pittsburgh.

“We’re just finding ways to win right now,” Nedeljkovic said. "They’re not always going to be pretty. You’d like them to be a little prettier than that, but you know, like I said, we’ll take two points tonight.”

The Penguins have three games remaining on their schedule. They will host the Boston Bruins on Saturday night and the Nashville Predators on Monday before wrapping up the regular season on the road against the New York Islanders.