Bennett scores deciding goal, Penguins beat Lightning, 5-3


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The book on Beau Bennett says he is, above all else, a playmaker.

Which is a pretty reasonable assessment.

Bennett, though, started to write a new chapter Sunday night, when he scored his first goal in the NHL.

One that proved to be the game-winner in the Penguins' 5-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Consol Energy Center.

The Penguins were up, 3-2, midway through the second period when Lightning defensemen Eric Brewer and Sami Salo were assessed interference minors 42 seconds apart.

The Penguins needed just 35 seconds of the two-man advantage that ensued for Sidney Crosby to feed a cross-ice pass to Bennett, who beat Tampa Bay goalie Mathieu Garon from just below the left dot.

"[Crosby] saw me early, and he kind of let the play develop," Bennett said. "The [penalty-killer] went toward him and put his stick down and [Crosby] sauced it over and, luckily, Garon didn't see it at first."

Bennett said his objective was simply to get his shot on goal -- "I wasn't trying to blow it through the net, or anything" -- and acknowledged that he still doesn't have full strength in his surgically repaired wrist.

He had enough, though, to get the puck past Garon, which was all that mattered at the time.

The assist on Bennett's goal was Crosby's third point of the game -- he had scored the Penguins' first two goals -- as he tied Lightning center Steven Stamkos for first place in the NHL scoring race.

"I coached him two years in junior," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "I've seen it all with Sidney. I was hoping not to see it [Sunday night]."

Turned out that wasn't an option.

The game was a fairly promising start to Crosby's partnership, however temporary, with right winger James Neal. Neal's usual center, Evgeni Malkin, was diagnosed with a concussion.

Coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin suffered some short-term memory loss after going hard into the boards Friday night and that, while his memory is returning, he will not accompany the Penguins on the three-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Florida.

"He's feeling pretty good right now," said Bylsma, who added that the Penguins will follow "standard protocol" in dealing with Malkin's injury.

Neal slid into a spot alongside Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz that had previously been occupied by Pascal Dupuis. Members of that reconfigured line combined to put up two goals and three assists.

"I don't think there's really much of an adjustment [to playing with Neal]," Crosby said. "I know where to look for him."

The victory moved the Penguins into first place in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of New Jersey and tie Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Kunitz-Crosby-Neal line produced a goal on its first shift, as Crosby beat Lightning goalie Anders Lindback high on the stick side from inside the left circle at 1:16 of the opening period.

Although Kunitz got the only assist on that one, Neal didn't have to wait long to make it onto the scoresheet, as he picked up an assist on Crosby's second of the game at 7:15.

Crosby pushed the puck past Lindback and into the crease, and Lindback kicked it across the goal line milliseconds before Kunitz could get there to poke it in. Paul Martin also received an assist.

Martin added a goal with 33.9 seconds to go before intermission, as he punched a Matt Cooke rebound into a mostly open net for his third. Cooke's assist was his 200th in the NHL.

The Lightning changed goalies -- and just about everything else -- for the start of the second period, shrinking the Penguins' lead to one in little more than three minutes.

Eric Brewer made it 3-1 when his backhander from inside the right circle appeared to hit Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik before eluding goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 1:37, and Stamkos got the Lightning within one on a 5-on-3 power play at 3:14.

The Penguins regained their equilibrium, however, and Bennett put them back up by two as the Penguins ran their streak of games with a man-advantage goal to 11.

The Lightning rallied early in the third, as Cory Conacher beat Fleury from the right side of the net after a shot from the left point hit Penguins center Joe Vitale and went directly to Conacher.

Tampa Bay could not generate a goal that would have forced overtime, however, and Cooke scored into an empty net with 51.2 seconds left to secure the outcome.

To give Bennett something besides a souvenir puck by which to remember this night.

"To get a big win with [the goal], it goes hand-in-hand," he said. "It felt awesome."

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter: @MolinariPG. First Published February 25, 2013 5:00 AM


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