Frustrated and fed up, Sidney Crosby encouraged Brandon Dubinsky to drop the gloves. The Columbus Blue Jackets center and frequent tormentor of the Pittsburgh Penguins star eagerly obliged.
The fight was a draw. The game was not. Dubinsky's stick — and not his fists — provided the technical knockout.
Dubinsky poked a pass from Matt Calvert by a sprawled Marc-Andre Fleury with 2:17 remaining to lift the Blue Jackets to a 2-1 win over the erratic Penguins on Thursday night. Columbus' third short-handed goal of the season came after Pittsburgh's seventh and final giveaway. Blake Comeau turned it over at center ice and the Blue Jackets quickly pounced. Calvert raced down the left side and fed Dubinsky as Comeau bowled over Fleury.
Dubinsky had little trouble tapping in his seventh goal of the season.
"It feels great to beat these guys, in their building especially," Dubinsky said. "I just really liked how we stuck with it for 60."
Scott Hartnell also scored for Columbus. Curtis McElhinney stopped 29 shots as the Blue Jackets won their second straight. Columbus needs a massive surge over the final quarter of the season to get within earshot of the playoff chase, but looked every bit Pittsburgh's equal for three periods — even if the Penguins hardly look like themselves lately.
"You could tell that we were focused tonight and there was a commitment from the group going out and doing the right things," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said.
Evgeni Malkin picked up his 22nd goal for Pittsburgh. Fleury was brilliant at times while making 28 saves, but couldn't stop the Penguins from losing for the fourth time in their last six games.
Crosby was held without a point for the 24th time this season and the eighth time in the last month. The two-time MVP has a history of run-ins with Dubinsky, and it bubbled over in the second period. Dubinsky came in to hit Crosby in the corner and Crosby took exception. They grabbed each other's jersey and swung several times, with Crosby landing a right hand that brought a massive roar. Crosby would have preferred a massive spark.
At the moment there's none to be found in Pittsburgh, which has lost four of six and fell into fourth place in the Metropolitan Division after Washington topped Winnipeg. The Penguins are 7-11-4 against division opponents this season.
"It's something we've got to fix," Crosby said. "We've got time but we have to fix it."
The teams met in a spirited playoff series last spring, the Penguins surviving after six taut and highly entertaining games. Columbus hoped it would become a springboard to greater things, but it hasn't happened. A groin injury to top goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky hasn't helped. Neither has an offense that struggles to produce goals.
It's an issue now plaguing the seemingly high-powered Penguins.
Pittsburgh couldn't keep Alexander Ovechkin in check during a 3-1 loss to Washington on Tuesday, a game marred by a slash to the back of Kris Letang's leg by Ovechkin that did not result in a penalty. The Penguins spent the last 20 minutes trying to retaliate, only to gift the Capitals the win by going two men down with five minutes to go.
Given 48 hours to regroup, Pittsburgh didn't exactly look over it.
The Blue Jackets dominated the first period. Only some sublime play by Fleury kept the Penguins in it before Hartnell broke through.
McElhinney kept Pittsburgh at bay, including a marvelous glove save on Crosby from right post, before Malkin chipped in a rebound midway in the second period to tie it.
Crosby's dust-up with Dubinsky and a terrific kill of a lengthy 5-on-3 by the Penguins appeared to give Pittsburgh momentum. The power play, a strength in the fall that has turned into an enigma over the winter, ended up costing Pittsburgh yet again.
The winning play started innocently enough with Comeau backhanding a pass at center ice just out of Malkin's reach. Columbus' Fedor Tyutin flicked a short pass to Calvert to start the 2-on-1 that became a 2-on-0 when Comeau plowed into Fleury. Dubinsky exalted while the Penguins sulked back to center ice wondering when their funk will end.
"The inconsistency in the team is the thing that concerns me," Pittsburgh coach Mike Johnston said. "The details to the game has to be there every night and it's not right now."
NOTES: The Penguins went 0 for 2 on the power play and are now 0 for their last 21 with the man advantage. ... Dubinsky's short-handed goal was just the third by Columbus this season. ... Pittsburgh plays at St. Louis on Saturday. The Blue Jackets travel to Montreal on Saturday.