BOSTON (AP) – Sidney Crosby punched his way to his first NHL “Gordie Howe hat trick.”

Crosby scored a goal, assisted on two by Evgeni Malkin, and dropped the gloves for the first time in the NHL to spur the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-4 shootout victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.

The 20-year-old Penguins captain helped set up Malkin’s first of the game 55 seconds in, scored his 16th of the season at 8:26, and then assisted on Malkin’s 13th as Pittsburgh jumped to a 3-0 lead.

Crosby fought Andrew Ference in the second period.

Colby Armstrong had three assists in helping the Penguins take a 4-0 lead they couldn’t hold. Journeyman goalie Ty Conklin, making his first start for Pittsburgh, stopped both shots in the shootout and helped his new club win for the second time in five games.

Ryan Christensen and rookie Chris Letang also scored for Pittsburgh. Conklin made 41 saves through overtime, then turned aside Phil Kessel and Marco Sturm in the tiebreaker.

The Bruins rallied on late second-period goals by Sturm and P.J. Axelsson, and got even when Petteri Nokelainen and Dennis Wideman scored in the third.

Crosby, playing in his 194th NHL game, fought Ference to at least a draw 5:09 into the second period. Ference, given an extra two minutes for starting the fight, had a cut over his left eye but it wasn’t clear if that was caused by a Crosby punch or Ference’s helmet.

The Bruins managed to remain the only team not to lose consecutive games in regulation, but they fell to 1-2-1 on their 1-2-1 homestand.

Sturm netted a power-play goal, and Axelsson scored during a power play. Nokelainen made it 4-3 with 6:46 left in regulation, and Wideman’s man-advantage goal with 2:55 remaining tied it.

Conklin signed with Pittsburgh as a free agent in July and was recalled from the minors Dec. 6 when Marc-Andre Fleury sustained an ankle injury. He faced 41 shots in his second game with the Penguins.

Thomas, returning from a seven-game absence due to a groin strain, was beaten by the first shot he saw.

Armstrong kept puck in the Boston zone and moved it to Crosby, who fed Malkin alone in front. Crosby then tipped home Armstrong’s pass less than eight minutes later. Malkin’s slap shot made it 3-0 at 11:53.

Christensen tipped in Ryan Whitney’s shot to push the advantage to 4-0 at 11:09 of the second, bringing boos to the Bruins from the fans.

Notes: The Penguins finished a stretch of playing eight of 10 on the road. Their next away game will be outside against Buffalo on New Year’s Day. … Pittsburgh has won three straight from Boston, dating to last season, but this marked the Penguins’ 20th victory in 85 games played in Boston. … Bruins D Andrew Alberts missed his second game with post concussion syndrome. Veteran forward Glen Murray left the game with a middle body injury and didn’t return. … Pittsburgh D Adam Eaton was forced out late with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.

AP-ES-12-20-07 2227EST

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