Hornqvist, Murray lead Pens to 4-1 win over Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Mark Barberio (45) slips between Pittsburgh Penguins center Matt Cullen (7) and Eric Fehr (16) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Denver. (AP)

DENVER (AP) — Sidney Crosby’s quest for 1,000 points has to wait a little longer.

Much to his chagrin, because he’d just as soon get it all over with.

Patric Hornqvist scored twice in a game in which Crosby was held in check, and Matthew Murray made 27 saves as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 on Thursday night.

Crosby remained stuck on 998 career points. The Penguins captain needs two more to become the 86th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point plateau.

“The sooner the better, to be honest with you,” Crosby said. “I’d love to get it over with just so I don’t have to keep answering about it.”

Phil Kessel scored a goal and Chris Kunitz added an empty-netter for Pittsburgh, which has won four of its last five road games. Still, coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t exactly thrilled with what he saw.

Well, Murray’s play in net being the exception, that is.

“I don’t think it was one of our better games as of late,” Sullivan said. “Certainly, we were happy with the result, but that’s probably where it ends.”

Gabriel Landeskog finally solved Murray on a power play with 3:16 remaining. But it was too little, too late as Colorado saw its modest — and season high-tying — two-game win streak snapped. The Avalanche certainly hit their fair share of posts, too, especially Nathan MacKinnon.

“It’s a game of millimeters,” MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon did enjoy taking the ice against his workout partner, Crosby.

“We don’t get to see them very often,” MacKinnon said. “He played great tonight. He always plays good.”

The Avalanche pulled goaltender Calvin Pickard twice in the final two minutes, but couldn’t score. Crosby had a good look at an open net, only to miss. Kunitz sealed the win with 36.5 seconds remaining.

Nikita Zadorov was whistled for holding on Crosby early in the second, a costly call on the young defenseman. Just 13 seconds later, Hornqvist squeezed a puck past Pickard to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead.

Hornqvist wasn’t done, adding another at 18:38 of the second when he flipped a back-handed shot past Pickard. It was Hornqvist’s second two-goal game of the season.

Then again, it’s not hard to find Hornqvist.

“He’s either in the corner or in front of the net. Those are the places that he kind of lives out there,” Sullivan said. “So I think that’s what he brings to our team. It’s great for him that he got rewarded tonight. He pays a price to go to those areas and he’s willing to do it and never gets deterred.”

There was a concerning moment for Pittsburgh in the second period when Bryan Rust was checked by Colorado defenseman Mark Barberio and tumbled into Pickard, knocking the goal off its pegs. Rust didn’t return for the third period.

“Hopefully it won’t be too bad,” Sullivan said.

Kessel scored at 4:01 in the first period when he beat Pickard with a liner that trickled off the crouching goaltender’s chest and into the net.

Really, though, the opening 20 minutes turned into The Murray Show. He stopped 13 shots, including one in which Landeskog crashed into him. Murray also benefited from two shots hitting off the post in the opening 3 minutes.

“They’re a way better team than their record indicates and they can make you pay,” Murray said. “They can put the puck in the back of the net pretty easily.”

NOTES: Penguins F Evgeni Malkin (lower-body injury) missed his sixth straight game and F Carl Hagelin (concussion) his second. … Avalanche G Jeremy Smith was recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League to serve as a backup. The team reassigned Spencer Martin to San Antonio so he could get more playing time. … D Tyson Barrie (lower-body injury) skated Thursday and will join the team on the upcoming trip. … RW Rene Bourque (head) also has resumed skating.


Penguins: At Arizona on Saturday.

Avalanche: Open a five-game trip Saturday night at New York against the Rangers.