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Crosby collects 4 points as Penguins hold off rival Philadelphia in wild 7-6 win

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby can't explain what it is about the Philadelphia Flyers that seems to bring out a little something extra in him.

Maybe it's familiarity. Maybe it's just the natural emotions that come from playing a rival. To be honest, the Pittsburgh Penguins longtime captain isn't really caught up in the “why” of it all.

There's too much else on his mind. Namely, trying to figure out a way for his team to make it to the playoffs.

The road is narrow as March looms. Yet it still exists, thanks in part to another vintage performance from the 36-year-old icon who torments the Flyers like no one else.

Crosby collected his 32nd goal of the season and added three assists in a 7-6 win over Philadelphia on Sunday that sent Pittsburgh west into what could be a season-defining four-game road trip with a little bit of momentum.

“So, from here on in, we just need to grab points," Crosby said after boosting his career totals against Philadelphia to 55 goals and 74 assists, the most ever by a Flyers opponent. "And I think getting the win last game and trying to build off that going into the road trip was really important. So, we know it’s a challenge in front of us, but I think hopefully we can build off this one.”

Drew O'Connor and Rickard Rakell scored less than two minutes apart in the third period to break open a tie game. Bryan Rust had two goals and an assist for the Penguins before exiting in the third period with an injury.

Emil Bemstrom, acquired in a trade with Columbus on Thursday, picked up a goal in his first game with the Penguins. Kris Letang added an insurance goal late after Philadelphia’s Cam York trimmed Pittsburgh’s lead to one. Tristan Jarry was shaky at times but earned the win after stopped 16 of the 22 shots he faced.

“It was kind of all over the place,” Letang said. “But that’s what happens when you’re in the course of 82 games, you get different type of games and good teams always usually find ways to win those games.”

Something the Penguins still believe they can be despite spending most of the season on the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff race. They finished 2-1-1 during a homestand that began with a dispiriting loss to Los Angeles. They rebounded by getting at least one point over the final three games thanks in part to an offense that may be springing to life at the right time.

Pittsburgh has reached four goals in three straight games for just the third time this season and recovered after Philadelphia scored twice late in the second to pull even.

“The most encouraging part was just the resilience of the group going out in the third period and just having the ability to put (the late second) behind them and being forward thinking and just competing,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

Travis Sanheim and Tyson Foerster had two goals each for Philadelphia. Scott Laughton added his eighth on the Flyers' NHL-leading 14th shorthanded goal of the season. Cal Petersen, making just his fourth start of the season, struggled while finishing with 25 saves.

The Flyers dropped back to back games over the weekend while playing without leading scorer Travis Konecny, who is out with an injury.

“Knew we probably didn’t have our best stuff tonight, but we battled hard until the end,” Laughton said. "We’ll take some stuff from it.”

Philadelphia lost defenseman Jamie Drysdale with an injury after Drysdale was on the wrong end of an open-ice hit by Pittsburgh's Jansen Harkins in the second period.

“Score six, you hope you win most nights,” Sanheim said. "We shot ourselves in the foot too many times. They’re a good team. They capitalized on their chances and made us pay.”

Something the Penguins have struggled to do most of the year. Pittsburgh began the day 23rd in the league in scoring. Sullivan, however, has consistently pointed to the analytics that hint his team has been more unlucky than unproductive. He's hopeful things may be starting to even out.

“You'd like to believe that if you continue to generate the type of chances that we have all year long, at some point they'll reconcile with goals, with actuals,” Sullivan said. “I think the fact that some of the goals are going in for our group is great. It certainly gives our players a boost.”

O'Connor's career-high ninth goal put Pittsburgh back in front and Rakell's first goal since Jan. 8 gave the Penguins welcome breathing room.

UP NEXT

Flyers: Host Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Penguins: Begin a trip out west on Tuesday in Vancouver.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Will Graves, The Associated Press