COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Center Sidney Crosby has scored few uglier goals, but the 260th of his career led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night in Nationwide Arena.
Crosby scored at 10:51 of the third to give the Penguins the lead for good in a game that was tight for 2 1/2 periods. He also assisted on right winger Chris Kunitz's power-play goal two minutes later to pad the lead.
Penguins left winger James Neal had a hat trick, capping it with 2:27 to play and prompting a rain of hats from the thousands of Pittsburgh fans who made the three-hour drive to help pack Nationwide with 18,871.
The Penguins scored three power-play goals, two by Neal.
"When Neal is shooting the puck like that, he makes a lot of people look good," Crosby said. "(My goal) was one of those where you just keep going to the net and hope for the best.
"It wasn't a clean play by any stretch, and I actually never saw the puck go in. But it was tucked under the goalie's arm pit and feel into the net. It was a big goal for us."
Pittsburgh backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, making his second start against the Jackets this season, finished with 25 saves.
Left winger Brandon Dubinsky, right winger Corey Tropp and defenseman Nikita Nikitin scored for the Blue Jackets, while goaltender Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves.
The Penguins (29-11-1) won all four meetings between the Metropolitan Division teams this season and are 14-4 vs. division teams.
The Blue Jackets (17-18-4) saw their season-best three-game winning streak end.
"You just can't take that many penalties," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "When you give them that much time (on the power play) ... it's just a matter of time before they score. They're too good for any penalty kill to keep them quiet when you give them that many chances. They'll take over the game."
Crosby took over in the third.
As the period moved past the midpoint with the game tied 2-2, Crosby carried the puck with speed into the Jackets' zone, and Crosby tried to feather the puck to Kunitz as he crossed the hashmarks.
The puck caromed off Blue Jackets' defenseman Fedor Tyutin and was caught between Tyutin and McElhinney when they collided. The force sent McElhinney tumbling backward, and the puck trickled into the net at 10:51.
That opened the floodgates.
Just 2:07 later, Crosby centered a pass to Kunitz for a snap wrister that beat McElhinney to make it 4-2.
"I'm not sure you can defend it or even draw it up for them when they're going like that on the power play," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "The Blue Jackets played hard in this one an awful lot. They got in on the forecheck, they hemmed us in a few times. But we weathered the storm, and when we got opportunities, we came up big."
Neal made it 5-2 with his 23rd goal of the season and the fourth hat trick of his career with 2:27 to play.
NOTES: Penguins D Rob Scuderi returned to the lineup after missing 29 games with a fractured ankle. ... Penguins C Evgeni Malkin (lower body) missed his seventh consecutive game, but he could return to face the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Columbus plays the Avalanche in Colorado on Tuesday. ... The Blue Jackets recalled RW Ryan Craig from AHL Springfield, but they returned him shortly after the game started, as C Derek MacKenzie was able to dress. ... Two Columbus teammates, C Brandon Dubinsky and RW Blake Comeau, said there were no lingering effects from their fight during Saturday's practice. The two had to be separated by assistant coach Dan Hinote after throwing several punches. "It's over," Comeau said. "The boys in the room loved it."