Penguins down Tampa Bay, 6-3


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TAMPA, Fla. -- It was just over a week ago that Carolina, which has become little more than an afterthought in the Eastern Conference playoff race, decided it didn't have a use for Jussi Jokinen.

His greatest value, management concluded, would be by departing in a trade to open some future salary-cap space, even if that meant Carolina had to pick up some of his contract for this season and next.

And so Jokinen was sent to the Penguins, who are comfortably atop the East and a serious threat to finish with the best record in the entire league. And who have found him to be a pretty useful guy to have around.

Jokinen scored the Penguins' first and fifth goals and set up another in their 6-3 victory against Tampa Bay at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday night, giving him three goals and two assists in his first three games with them.

Might be the most best return general manager Ray Shero will get on a late-round, conditional draft choice.

"He's done a great job since he's been here," left winger Chris Kunitz said. "A great addition."

Jokinen wasn't the only Penguin to have a productive night, as winger Pascal Dupuis chipped in with a goal -- his 20th this season -- and two assists.

Even more noteworthy, Tanner Glass knocked in a rebound during a five-on-three power play at 16:40 of the third period for his first point in 41 games this season. He had been awarded an assist during the Penguins' 5-3 victory at Carolina Tuesday, but that was later taken away by the official scorer.

"It feels great," Glass said."It's one of those things. I don't measure my game, necessarily, by goals and points, but it's tough to not think about it when you have zero.

"It's nice to get that first one out of the way.

"Hopefully, they start coming more often."

The victory was the Penguins' sixth in a row against the Lightning -- the first time they have put together a streak that long -- and raised their record to 31-10.

They have a five-point lead over second-place Montreal in the Eastern Conference standings.

And the victory wasn't the only encouraging development of the day for them.

Center Sidney Crosby, who missed his fifth consecutive game while recovering from surgery to repair a broken jaw, flew to Tampa and watched the game from the press box.

What's more, defenseman Paul Martin, who is recovering from hand surgery and has gotten clearance to resume skating, will join the Penguins in Sunrise, Fla. Saturday, coach Dan Bylsma said.

Finally, defenseman Kris Letang, who had missed the previous six games because of a toe injury, returned to the Penguins' lineup and took a regular shift, as well manning the point on the No. 1 power-play unit and killing penalties.

He logged 23 minutes, 31 seconds of ice time, which was second on the team only to Matt Niskanen.

Jokinen put the Penguins in front to stay at 4:07 of the opening period, when the rebound of a Brenden Morrow shot ricocheted off his right skate and into the net behind Lightning goalie Ben Bishop.

Dupuis got the second assist on that goal and scored one of his own at 6:02, as he drove to the net and stuck a Tyler Kennedy rebound under the crossbar for his 20th.

Tampa Bay sliced the Penguins' lead to 2-1 16 minutes into the period, when Teddy Purcell got a cross-ice feed from Steven Stamkos and steered the puck past goalie Tomas Vokoun from the right hash.

Jarome Iginla hammered a slap shot that deflected off Chris Kunitz before sailing past Bishop during a power play at 1:48 of the second period to restore the Penguins' two-goal advantage.

"He's got such a great shot, you just try turn around to maybe try to find a rebound, and it hits your stick," Kunitz said.

"It just touched the shaft as I was turning. It was a laser. It was probably going in, anyway."

Tampa Bay countered quickly with a man-advantage goal of its own, as Brett Connolly beat Vokoun high on the glove side from inside the right circle at 5:46.

The Penguins dominated the third period, however, getting goals from Evgeni Malkin, Jokinen and Glass before Purcell scored a power-play goal with 18 seconds left to trim their margin of victory to three.

The victory raised the Penguins' record when leading after two periods to 16-0, a promising portent as the playoff approach.

"That's the sign of a veteran team," Glass said. "We're confident in each other that no matter who steps over the boards, they know what they're doing out there."

That includes the guy brought in from Carolina last week, even if he downplays his contribution.

"This is a great team," Jokinen said, "and I've been able to play with some pretty good hockey players."

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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