Sunday, March 10, 2013 9:58 pm
Penguins crush Islanders 6-1 for 5th straight win
By WILL GRAVESAP Sports Writer
Crosby's big night boosted his point total to an NHL-leading 45 and helped the Penguins win their fifth straight. James Neal had a goal and three assists, and Pascal Dupuis scored twice for Pittsburgh. Tomas Vokoun made 23 saves.
Brad Boyes scored the lone goal for New York, which had a five-game point streak snapped. Evgeni Nabokov stopped just 12 of 17 shots in two periods before getting pulled for the final 20 minutes.
The Penguins played without reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin, who sat out due to an upper body injury.
Kunitz more than picked up the slack. The veteran forward scored a pair of power-play goals in the first period and then added his third midway through the second as the Penguins began a home-heavy portion of their schedule with a blowout.
The Islanders had lost 13 straight games in Pittsburgh before breaking through at the end of last season and backing it up with a win in Pittsburgh six weeks ago.
While New York has been a modest surprise - the Islanders entered the game just two points out of a playoff spot - they were no match for the NHL's highest-scoring team. The Penguins are rolling behind a resurgent Crosby and two linemates playing perhaps the finest hockey of their careers.
A gifted two-way player with a knack for doing dirty work in tight places, Kunitz is flourishing in his ninth season. His fourth career hat trick gave him 17 goals this season, and his 36 points are third in the NHL. Kunitz's career-high point total in a season is 61, set last year. He is on pace to post career bests in goals and points in a lockout-shortened, 48-game sprint.
Having Crosby at the peak of his powers certainly helps. Nearly a year after his last comeback from concussion-like symptoms, Crosby has regained his MVP form. He extended his point streak to nine games - the longest stretch in the NHL this season - and the Penguins had little issue to kick off a three-week stretch that could help them strengthen their position atop the Atlantic Division.
Pittsburgh spent most of the first half of the season on the road but Sunday night started a 12-game run in which they will play only twice away from home.
The Penguins didn't waste much time getting settled in. Dupuis put them up 1-0 just over 7 minutes in when his shot from the goal line clanked off the post, smacked the back of Nabokov's pad and went into the net.
Kunitz pushed the lead to 3-0 by the end of the period after a pair of power-play goals within a span of 3 minutes. He poked in a feed from Neal for his first goal and then did it again on his next shift. Kunitz took a backhand feed from Neal and slipped it by Nabokov to score Pittsburgh's 33rd first-period goal, the most in the league.
Boyes briefly got the Islanders back into it when Pittsburgh defenseman Simon Despres slipped trying to clear the puck, allowing Boyes to come in alone. He snapped a shot over Vokoun's right shoulder to make it 3-1.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called timeout to let his weary club - playing its third game in four days - get its legs. Whatever he told them worked. Kunitz and Neal scored 16 seconds apart to make it 5-1.
NOTES: Crosby's other five assist game came against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 13, 2006. ... New York scratched forwards Keith Aucoin and Eric Boulton as well as defenseman Joe Finley. ... The Penguins scratched defensemen Deryk Engelland and Robert Bortuzzo. ... Pittsburgh hosts Boston on Tuesday. The Islanders are off until Thursday when they play at Tampa Bay.
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