PITTSBURGH - Sidney Crosby made the Penguins' cap night giveaway at Mellon Arena an appropriate one.
Crosby had his fourth career hat trick and added two assists for his second five-point game and the Pittsburgh Penguins won for the fourth time in five games, 8-3 over the New York Rangers on Saturday night.
"It's always fun to get the hat trick, but especially tonight it was a lot of fun," said Crosby, who fell a point short of his career high for points. "It was pretty weird the way it worked out, but what better time to do it?"
Crosby scored once in the first and twice in the third period and added two first-period assists to help the Penguins rout the Rangers, winless in regulation at Mellon Arena in their past 13 tries.
"When I walked into the building and saw the free hats, the thought did cross my mind that hopefully somebody would get a hat trick to see those things on the ice," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "It takes a little bit of extra time, but I liked why they went on the ice."
Evgeni Malkin, Max Talbot, Mark Eaton, Pascal Dupuis and Tyler Kennedy also scored for Pittsburgh, which has won six of eight and remained tied with Washington atop the Eastern Conference standings with 36 points.
Defencemen Marc Staal, Matt Gilroy and Michal Rozsival scored for New York, which has lost four of six and is 6-12-1 since a 7-1 start.
The Penguins welcomed three regulars back to the lineup from injury - winger Kennedy and defencemen Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang - in scoring their most goals of the season and most against the Rangers since Oct. 14, 2000.
Crosby scored 17:43 into the contest to break a 1-1 tie and give Pittsburgh a lead it would never relinquish, barely keeping a New York clearing attempt in the zone, walking in and firing a wrist shot that beat Rangers backup goalie Steve Valiquette high to the stick side.
His second of the game and 14th of the season came 3:14 into the third, 2:51 after former Penguin Rozsival had pulled New York to 4-3. Malkin had slipped a puck along the goal line while Valiquette sprawled, and Crosby picked up the puck and banked it off him.
After Dupuis had made it 6-3, Crosby scored on the power play with 8:31 to play, firing a wrist shot from the right-wing circle just under the far crossbar, eliciting a deluge of hats onto the ice on a night in which the 141st consecutive sellout crowd at Mellon Arena was given free ballcaps upon entry.
"We played a great game tonight and got some breaks but we worked hard for them," Crosby said. "Any time (your team) puts that many goals up, it's a fun game."
It was Crosby's second hat trick of the season, having scored three times Oct. 28 in a 6-1 home win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Crosby, who assisted goals by Malkin and Talbot, finished the game with a plus-4 rating, matching a career high.
"He's a great player," said Malkin, who with Crosby each have won a league scoring title in the past three years. "It's easy to play with him."
Talbot's goal was his first since he had two in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. He missed the first 21 games of this season after off-season shoulder surgery.
Kennedy closed out the scoring at 11:54 of the third, giving the Penguins their most goals in a game since Dec. 11, 2008, a 9-2 win over the New York Islanders.
The Rangers have allowed 13 goals in their past two games after a 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay Friday that coach John Tortorella called "probably our worst game we've played all year long."
"We played decent hockey (Saturday)," said veteran winger Vinny Prospal. "Obviously, the score didn't indicate that in our favour, but we were in the hockey game. We were close. It was totally different than in Tampa yesterday.... The effort was there tonight."
The Penguins spent most of the final 10 minutes of the game on the power play after the Rangers looked for retribution on Pittsburgh agitator Matt Cooke, whose hit on Artem Ansimov knocked him out of the game.
"He leaves his feet, it's an absolute head shot, the linesman jumps in when somebody else is trying to take care of business, that should have been left alone," Tortorella said. "This is where our game is screwed up as far as I'm concerned. There is just no respect for these types of situations."
The teams meet again Monday in New York.
NOTES: Crosby had six points with a goal and five assists Dec. 13, 2006, in an 8-4 win at Philadelphia. ... Malkin has a six-game scoring streak. ... Kennedy had missed the previous 11 games with a lower-body injury believed to have been his groin, Letang hadn't played in nine games due to a shoulder ailment and Goligoski missed six with an undisclosed ailment. ... Rangers defencemen have 18 goals this season, tied for second in the NHL.