Staal tactics set up 8th win in row

Penguins 4, Lightning 1: Nets 2 goals to break scoring drought; Conklin sharp in rare Penguins' victory in Tampa



TAMPA, Fla. -- Jordan Staal is not a one-dimensional player and doesn't measure his contribution solely by numbers.

But even though he does a lot that doesn't show up on a stat sheet, Staal enjoys it when he does things that do.

Like scoring a couple of goals, the way he did in the Penguins' 4-1 victory against Tampa Bay at the St. Pete Times Forum last night.

Particularly after he had gotten just three of them in the previous 42 games.

"It's nice," Staal said. "It was long overdue."

So was a Penguins victory against the Lightning. Tampa Bay had beaten them in the previous 12 meetings. That total included six victories in a row here, a streak that began after a 3-2 Penguins victory Jan. 17, 2003.

The Penguins' victory ran their winning streak to eight games and leaves them one point behind first-place New Jersey in the Atlantic Division.

The game had been hyped as a showdown between two of the NHL's top MVP candidates, Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier, and both turned in strong games punctuated by flashes of their exceptional ability.

Neither, however, was able to register a point.

"[Defensemen Sergei] Gonchar and [Rob] Scuderi did a great, great job against Lecavalier's line," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "They're tough to contain."

Although goalie Ty Conklin has not had to make that many spectacular stops during his nine starts with the Penguins -- credit that to his strong positioning and rebound-control, as well as strong play by the guys in front of him -- he proved he is capable of doing it at 12:25.

That's when he lunged across the crease to deny Lecavalier, the NHL's leading scorer, who had an uncontested shot at an open net from along the goal line.

"The way the puck came to him and the way the play developed, [the puck] wasn't on his tape," Conklin said. "I think it was on his body a little bit, and he had to bring it out. That gave me a little time to dive across, and then he just hit my glove."

Funny how many opposing shooters have been doing that in the past few weeks.

Conklin, though, could not prevent Paul Ranger from putting the Lightning in front, 1-0, at 4:11 of the second.

He collected a loose puck behind the goal line and took it toward the front of the net before flipping in a backhander.

Center Maxime Talbot, playing for the first time since Dec. 8 because of a high ankle sprain, nearly got that goal back at 5:22, but his shot from the slot went just wide of the right post.

The Penguins were frustrated again at 7:06, when Lightning goalie Karri Ramo covered a puck that was skidding toward the net a few inches in front of the goal line.

But shortly thereafter, Staal picked up his two goals in a span of two minutes, 22 seconds to put the Penguins ahead to stay.

He tied the score on a power play at 12:11, setting up in front of Ramo and using the shaft of his stick to deflect in a Petr Sykora shot from the top of the right circle.

"I pretty much was trying to not have [Sykora's shot] hit my face," Staal said. "I got a lucky bounce."

Good fortune, however, had nothing to do with his goal at 14:33.

Staal, along the goal line to the right of the Lightning net, controlled a Sykora rebound with his right skate, then nudged the puck onto his stick blade and buried it behind Ramo.

"You couldn't have asked for a better time in the game to get those two [goals]," Conklin said.

The Penguins were able to fend off Tampa Bay during a four-minute power play early in the third -- Talbot got a double-minor for high-sticking Tampa Bay defenseman Shane O'Brien at 1:28, even though replays suggested one of O'Brien's teammates actually had clipped him -- and ultimately put the game away on a quirky goal at 17:21.

Sykora's stick broke when he took a shot from the left side, and the puck was headed wide of the net until it glanced off Staal's skate and went in front, where Ryan Malone punched it in for a two-goal lead.

"We got a lucky bounce there," Malone said.

Evgeni Malkin cemented the victory with an empty-netter 11.5 seconds before time expired.

"It was a good team effort," Malone said. "A good win for us."




Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published January 11, 2008 5:00 AM


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