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Sidney Crosby guides the Penguins to victory over the Rangers

It's not smart to think that the Pittsburgh Penguins have a good chance of making it to the postseason.

It would be unwise to think the Pittsburgh Penguins have much of a chance at making the upcoming playoffs.

It would also be unwise to assume captain Sidney Crosby won’t carry this flawed team as far as he can for as long as possible.

That was the case Monday — April Fools’ Day — as Crosby got two goals and an assist, leading the Penguins to a surprising 5-2 win against the strong New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Crosby’s second goal, an empty-net score late in regulation, ensured he will finish the regular season with a point-per-game scoring average for the 19th consecutive season, matching a mark set by the great Wayne Gretzky.

Monday’s win came despite at least two members of the Penguins’ active roster being unavailable due to illnesses: projected starting goaltender Tristan Jarry and rookie defenseman John Ludvig.

Because Jarry was out, the Penguins could only dress a lineup of 19 players with backup goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic starting his fifth consecutive game.

Nedeljkovic, who has been playing more often lately due to Jarry’s struggles on the ice, unofficially stopped 28 of 30 shots Monday to improve his record to 13-6-6.

Crosby and his teammates wasted no time, scoring just 18 seconds into regulation.

At the beginning of the game at center ice, Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba made a pass from his own left circle that hit off the left skate of pressuring Penguins forward Reilly Smith. Claiming the puck, Smith pushed play up the left wing boards into the near corner. From there, Smith slid a pass to the left circle for a wide-open Crosby, who ripped a one-timer on net.

Goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin made the initial save with his left leg (according to replays posted on social media) but allowed a rebound. Penguins forward Bryan Rust was in the right place at the right time and cleaned up the loose puck in the slot with a backhander past Shesterkin’s left skate for his 25th goal of the season. Crosby and Smith provided assists.

Crosby’s team-leading 36th goal came at 10:39 of the first period.

From the high slot of the offensive zone, Joseph snapped a wrister toward the cage. Cruising between the right hashmarks, Crosby deflected the puck with the forehand side of his stick blade by the glove of Shesterkin.

An unlikely source put the Penguins up by a field goal when forward Emil Bemstrom — a healthy scratch in the previous three games — scored his seventh goal on a breakaway 9:51 into the third period.

After Rangers rookie forward Will Cuylle was pressured into a turnover just inside the offensive blue line by a poke check from Penguins rookie defenseman Jack St. Ivany, Penguins forward Jesse Puljujarvi backhand jabbed the puck to the neutral zone, springing Bemstrom on an immediate breakaway. With no resistance, Bemstrom glided in on net and lifted a wrister by Shesterkin’s glove.

Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko got his team on the scoreboard 51 seconds later via his 12th goal. That was followed by Rangers forward Jack Roslovic’s eighth goal at 16:53 of the final period.

Rust and Crosby scored goals when the other team didn't have a goalie, which made it impossible for the other team to come back.

Notes: Penguins player Ryan Graves wasn't playing because he had a concussion, and Sam Poulin also wasn't playing, likely because he was healthy. Ludvig wasn't there, so Ryan Shea took his place and played in his first NHL game since Dec. 8. The Penguins moved Shea between their NHL and American Hockey League teams on Sunday and Monday.

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