Penguins extend streak with key win vs. Florida
Sidney Crosby's stick breaks as he attempts a shot against Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun in the second period last night in Sunrise, Fla.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, third from left, is congratulated by teammates after making 31 saves to beat the Florida Panthers last night in Sunrise, Fla.
In his first game back after missing four games with a sore left groin, Sidney Crosby scores against Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun in the second period
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SUNRISE, Fla. -- For some people, life gets exciting when they get a new pair of shoes or maybe have a couple sound nights of sleep.
For Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby, breaking in a new set of wingers made for a nice evening.
Early returns on the Penguins' new top line of Crosby, right winger Bill Guerin and left winger Chris Kunitz look good.
"Both [Guerin] and Kunitz did a great job," Crosby said. "We're still learning from each other. I think we can still create more. Hopefully, there's some chemistry there."
Playing in a game with large implications in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, Crosby scored the first of four unanswered Penguins goals -- and one that came 24 seconds after Florida took the lead -- as the Penguins beat the Panthers, 4-1, last night at BankAtlantic Center.
The win pushed the Penguins into a three-way tie for sixth place in the East with Florida and the New York Rangers, each with 74 points. If the playoffs began today, Florida would be the sixth seed, the Rangers No. 7 and the Penguins' No. 8.
It was the Penguins' fifth win in a row, left them 4-0 on a season-long, five-game road trip that concludes Sunday afternoon in Washington, and put them at 7-1-1 under interim coach Dan Bylsma.
Winger Tyler Kennedy added two goals, defenseman Kris Letang one, and defenseman Brooks Orpik two assists for the Penguins, who have a rematch with Florida in their first game back home Tuesday.
"Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but, hopefully, we can look back at this trip and feel good, especially against these guys," said Orpik, who sported a bloody lip after being hit with a shot in the third period.
"We've got them our first [home] game back and we talked about the fact that if we can get both, that's an eight-point swing for us."
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves to get the win in his 15th consecutive start. He is 10-4-1 in that stretch.
Bylsma has said as long as the schedule is not too hectic -- the Penguins have had games on back-to-back days only once in the past month and don't do so again until March 14-15 -- he pretty much plans to ride Fleury.
That's OK with the goaltender.
"It's been all right," he said. "We've been on a good sequence. We want to keep going the same way."
Crosby, in his fourth NHL season, has played with a lot of linemates, but going into a game after he had been out a week and a half because of a groin injury with two wingers he had never played with before was novel. Add to that the fact that Guerin hadn't played in a week because the New York Islanders had held him out of their lineup in anticipation of a trade.
"It's a feeling-out process," Crosby said.
After the teams went the better part of two periods without scoring, Florida took a 1-0 lead when Gregory Campbell fed Radek Dvorak from behind the net, and Dvorak, stationed at the left corner of the crease, tipped the puck over Fleury at 17:49 of the second period.
Later on the same shift, Guerin dished the puck to Crosby in the Panthers' end, and Crosby had a lot of room down the center of the ice. He shrugged off Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester inside the blue line and ripped a shot from the left hash marks inside the far post to tie the score, 1-1, at 18:13.
"There was a little bit of gap between the two [defensemen]," Crosby said. "I just tried to go through there with speed and I found a little opening."
The assist made Guerin -- acquired Wednesday from the Islanders for a conditional draft pick -- the 14th U.S.-born player to reach 800 career points.
Guerin had five shots, Crosby four as the Penguins peppered Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun with 47 shots.
Kennedy scored what was the eventual winning goal, making it 2-1, at 2:24 of the third period when winger Matt Cooke foiled Florida's attempt to clear the puck from its zone by digging the puck out of the corner and feeding Kennedy, who scored from the slot.
The Penguins upped their lead to 3-1 at 4:37 of the third period when Letang moved in from the right point, faked a shot, then lifted one past Vokoun from the dot.
Kennedy put it out of reach when he finished off a two-on-one with Evgeni Malkin to make it 4-1 at 11:34 of the third period. The assist extended Malkin's point streak to 10 games.
"[Malkin] gave me a great pass, and [Cooke] put it on the platter, too," Kennedy said.
"I just tried to bang it home."
Since they last played at home, the Penguins have added Guerin, Kunitz and winger Craig Adams.
"I think this trip shows we have a lot of depth now," Kennedy said. "We have four lines that can all contribute, and that's hard to play against."
First Published March 6, 2009 12:00 am