TAMPA, Fla. -- It has been a plea from Penguins fans all season. For years, really.
Shoot the puck.
But, as popular as that three-word phrase is, there are four words just as meaningful, especially in the energized world of interim coach Dan Bylsma.
Go to the net.
The Penguins did that last night and produced a 3-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum that pushed them into a tie with the New York Rangers for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
The win was the Penguins' fourth in a row -- all without center Sidney Crosby, who has a groin injury.
Leading the way was newcomer Chris Kunitz, who is penciled in to be Crosby's linemate when the team captain returns. He scored the Penguins' first two goals -- the kind of dirty goals that come when a player keeps going within sniffing distance of the goal.
"That's kind of where I go," said Kunitz, who was acquired Thursday in a trade with Anaheim. "I stand in front and I go to the net and I try to retrieve pucks.
"Right now we're doing a good job of shooting the puck on the net and going for rebounds. It's something our whole team has been doing and scoring goals of late."
Kunitz now has three goals, two assists in three games with his new team. His skate prints were all over the first period.
He drew a penalty on the first shift of the game. The Penguins didn't score on the resulting power play, but Kunitz gave them a 1-0 lead at 7:38 of the first period.
Linemate Tyler Kennedy sped down the left side and threw the puck toward the net from the point. It hit a Lightning skate, and Kunitz batted it past Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo.
"It's a tough league. There's good players and good defenders," said Bylsma, who is 6-1-1 since taking over.
"You've got to create offense, and a lot of times one of the best plays is getting the puck to the net and then going to the net.
"It can start to become an identity of our team if you get pucks there, go there and make [defensemen] turn and make plays when there are pucks around their goalie. You saw that first goal was an indication of that."
The Lightning tied it at 12:23 when center Vinny Prospal converted a feed from winger Vincent Lecavalier to finish a two-on-one break that developed just outside the blue line.
Kunitz struck again at 16:44 of the first period as the Penguins regained the lead, 2-1.
He drove to the net on a power play to get a Petr Sykora rebound off the chest of Ramo and bang it past the goalie's stick side.
"I don't score too many from outside the circles," Kunitz said. "It's usually right close to the crease."
Center Evgeni Malkin got the second assist on the goal for his NHL-leading 93rd point of the season. It extended his point streak to nine games.
"You've got to put pucks to the net and create rebounds," said winger Matt Cooke, who scored the Penguins' third goal at 12:26 of the second period.
"That's been a focus of ours. The more pucks you put at the net, the more second chances you're getting, and that's how teams are scoring goals.
"There are pretty goals that happen, but most of the goals maybe aren't the nicest goals for the fans, but guys on the bench appreciate them."
Cooke's goal came off a pretty play -- linemate Pascal Dupuis spun around Tampa Bay defender Lukas Krajicek to dish it to Cooke -- but it was Cooke's drive to the low slot that allowed him to finish the play.
The Penguins then shut down Tampa Bay.
"We're confident," said center Max Talbot, who had an assist on Cooke's goal.
"We know what to do. Leads like that, we won't lose them.
"Not only are we on a roll, but we're starting to play better and better."
The Penguins are 3-0 on a season-long, five-game road trip that continues tomorrow night with a showdown at Florida, which is in sixth place in the East, two points ahead.
Kunitz, obtained along with prospect Eric Tangradi for defenseman Ryan Whitney, has a hard time believing he joined a team that not long ago was struggling and seemed like something of a long shot to make the playoffs a year after reaching the Stanley Cup final.
"Yeah, seriously. Ever since I've been here, we've been building and getting better every game," Kunitz said.
"It doesn't matter if it's just defense or neutral zone or goal-scoring chances or being physical. Every single game, we've been getting better, and, hopefully, that continues to the end of the season."
Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. First Published March 4, 2009 5:00 AM