Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores the game winning goal in overtime against Keith Kinkaid #1 of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 29, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. The Penguins defeated the Devils 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, N.J. — After taking a butt end to the chest from Travis Zajac late in regulation, Sidney Crosby retreated to the bench in obvious pain.
In overtime, he responded in the most Sidney Crosby way possible.
Crosby used an incredible feat of hand-eye coordination to score another highlight-reel goal, leading the Penguins to a 4-3 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.
"He was fired up after that, and he got us the win," teammate Patric Hornqvist said.
The play began when Crosby took a long lead pass from Kris Letang and moved up the left wing on a slow-developing two-on-one with Bryan Rust. He kept the puck himself, rang a shot off the post, then knocked in his own rebound out of midair with a waist-high baseball swing 19 seconds into overtime.
It was the second goal Crosby scored out of midair in eight days. He also batted one in against Montreal on March 21.
"I don't really know how to explain that," Crosby said. "If they're around you, you take your chance, take your shot at it and hope they go in. I've got a couple that have gone in lately. I don't really care how they go in, as long as they go over the line."
The Penguins won for the first time in four meetings with the Devils this season. They're still locked in a battle for four playoff spots with Philadelphia, Columbus, New Jersey and Florida, but the win moved them five points ahead of the Devils and eight up on the Panthers.
Just as importantly, it represented a significant bounce-back effort after a brutal 5-2 loss in Detroit two days earlier.
"I think this is our best 60-minute game here in a long time," Hornqvist said. "This is the way we have to play here from now on. It's going to be a fun run here. We know what we have to do to be successful, and we showed it tonight."
Before the game, coach Mike Sullivan said the one thing he wanted to see from his team in response to the Detroit loss was a heightened level of competitiveness.
He didn't ask them to show that by collapsing around their own net and playing desperate defense, however.
One look at his lineup showed how Sullivan wanted his players to compete Thursday night.
Phil Kessel was reunited with Evgeni Malkin as Sullivan loaded up his top two lines. Letang and Brian Dumoulin were also reunited, backed up by Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz, as he loaded up his top two defense pairs as well.
Sullivan wanted the Penguins to attack.
"I just think our team is at its best when we are aggressive," Sullivan said. "Our best defense is when we have the puck or are pursuing the puck. Defense doesn't take place just in your own zone. When you look at the way our team is built, I think that's how we're built to play. That's how we design a game plan for our team, to play an in-your-face game."
Sometimes the plan backfired.
A foul-up between Malkin and Kessel at the offensive blue line in the first period led to a Kyle Palmieri breakaway goal. The penalty kill gave up another goal in the second period. An intercepted Justin Schultz clear turned into a Blake Coleman goal in the third.
The Penguins always had an answer, however.
Conor Sheary scored on a two-on-one with Hornqvist 25 seconds after Palmieri's goal. Letang scored in the second period. Hornqvist lobbed in a shot through traffic to forge a 3-3 tie with less than nine minutes left in regulation.
"It's a playoff-style game," Crosby said. "We got a big goal in the third to tie it up and built off of that."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.