Friday, March 29, 2013 4:04 am
Penguins move within 3 of NHL consecutive win mark
By WILL GRAVESAP Sports Writer
Sure, Crosby is enjoying Pittsburgh's 14-game winning streak. Yet he also knows his team's perfect run through March won't mean a thing if the Penguins don't come through in May and June.
"I don't think anyone is going to remember (this) come playoff time," Crosby said.
The Penguins moved within three games of the NHL record for consecutive victories by easing by the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. Pittsburgh can draw within two of the mark set by the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins in 1992-93 on Saturday against the New York Islanders.
It's heady territory. Yet Crosby insists it won't mean much if it this ride doesn't end with a Stanley Cup. The Penguins' quest for a three-peat 20 years ago ended with a loss to the Islanders in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Pittsburgh's current star-studded group doesn't want to meet the same fate.
"We're just trying to get better, we know there are things we can improve on," said Crosby, who had two assists to push his points total to a league-leading 56.
Pascal Dupuis scored twice for Pittsburgh and Evgeni Malkin celebrated his return to the lineup with his first goal in more than three weeks. Chris Kunitz added a goal and an assist as the Penguins capped a giddy 24 hours by dominating the Southeast Division leaders.
And to think newly acquired Jarome Iginla is still in Canada working through immigration issues. The Penguins acquired the six-time All-Star forward late Wednesday night, an audacious move that thrust them from Stanley Cup contender to favorite.
Pittsburgh hardly played like the pressure - of what is now the third-longest winning streak in NHL history - is a burden.
"We made it tough on them," said Crosby, whose team hasn't lost since the last day of February. "The fact we got to them early probably helped us a little bit but we kept our foot on the gas the entire game."
Tomas Vokoun stopped 20 shots and even recorded an assist as the Penguins posted consecutive shutouts for only the second time in franchise history. Vokoun also became the 26th goaltender in NHL history to record 50 career shutouts.
"He was strong, really solid in there," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "Fifty is a big number."
Al Montoya, making a rare start, made 39 saves for Winnipeg but the Jets were no match for the NHL's hottest team.
The latter half of Pittsburgh's streak has been filled with taut defensive struggles, one-goal thrillers and stunning third-period comebacks, proof the Penguins say they're ready for playoff hockey.
There was no such drama required against the Jets, who have lost 12 straight in Pittsburgh.
"We started watching and stopped skating," Winnipeg forward Andew Ladd said. "Against a team like that, that's not a good thing."
Bylsma said he will experiment with line combinations while trying to work in Iginla and Brenden Morrow - who came over in a trade with Dallas on Sunday - but it's unlikely he'll mess with the trio of Kunitz, Dupuis and Crosby.
Hockey's highest-scoring line wasted little time getting to work against the little-used Montoya, making his seventh appearance this season.
Kunitz put the Penguins in front 15:03 into the first period, though the play was all Crosby, who flicked a no-look backhand pass from behind the net to Kunitz in the left circle. The puck somehow found its way through a pair of Winnipeg defenders and by Montoya for Kunitz's 20th goal of the season.
The Penguins appeared to go in front 2-0 less than 2 minutes later when a slap shot from Dupuis rocketed by Montoya and caromed back into play. Half of the arena rose in unison, but the red light never came on and play continued.
No biggie. Not the way Pittsburgh is rolling.
Malkin scored his first goal since March 4 just over 30 seconds after Dupuis' near miss when a centering pass from James Neal hit off the Russian's skate twice and rolled over Montoya's right pad.
Dupuis singlehandedly doubled the lead in the second period. He scored his 16th goal of the season off a feed from Kunitz then added his 17th later in the period when he faked a pass to Tanner Glass and fired a wrist shot over Montoya's glove. The short-handed goal pushed the lead to 4-0.
Winnipeg had no answer. The Jets rarely do in Pittsburgh. The franchise hasn't beaten the Penguins on the road since Dec. 27, 2006, when the franchise was in Atlanta.
NOTES: Pittsburgh G Marc-Andre Fleury was scratched from the lineup while he recovers from an upper-body injury sustained in a 1-0 win over Montreal on Tuesday. The Penguins brought up Jeff Zatkoff from the team's AHL affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton to serve as the backup to Vokoun ... Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 50-26 during the winning streak ... The Jets host Carolina on Saturday.