The Times West Virginian

Sports

March 29, 2013

Penguins drop Jets 4-0, extend win streak to 14

PITTSBURGH — Pascal Dupuis scored twice and Evgeni Malkin had a goal in his return to the lineup, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night for their 14th straight win.

Chris Kunitz had a goal and an assist and Sidney Crosby had two assists to push his league-best points total to 56 as the Penguins capped a giddy 24 hours and within three victories of its own NHL record for consecutive wins. Malkin, back from an upper body injury, got his first goal in three weeks.

Tomas Vokoun stopped 20 shots and even recorded his first assist while getting his 50th career shutout.

Al Montoya, making just his fourth start of the season, made 39  saves for Winnipeg but the Jets were no match for the NHL’s hottest team.

The league record for consecutive wins was set by the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins in 1992-93, and appears to be in serious jeopardy, though Lemieux — who now co-owns the franchise — hardly appears to mind.

Pittsburgh hosts the New York Islanders on Saturday and Buffalo next Tuesday. If the Penguins can handle a pair of Eastern Conference also-rans they could head to New York to face the Rangers April 3 with a chance to tie the record.

The latter half of Pittsburgh’s streak has been filled with taut defensive struggles, one-goal thrillers and stunning third-period comebacks, proof the Penguins say, that they’re ready for playoff hockey.

There was no such drama required against the Jets on a night Pittsburgh didn’t exactly play like the weight of the third-longest streak in league history felt like a burden.

Less than a day after the Penguins acquired six-time All-Star Jarome Iginla from Calgary, Pittsburgh hardly looked like a team in need of any help. Iginla won’t play until this weekend at the earliest. Considering the ease with which his new club is playing at the moment, Iginla can take his time.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma says he will experiment with line combinations while trying to work in Iginla and Brenden Morrow — who came over in a trade with Dallas on Sunday — but it’s unlikely he’ll mess with the trio of Kunitz, Dupuis and Crosby.

Hockey’s highest-scoring line wasted little time getting to work against the little-used Montoya, making his seventh appearance this season.

Kunitz put the Penguins in front 15:03 into the first period, though the play was all Crosby, who flicked a no-look backhand pass from behind the net to Kunitz in the left circle. The puck somehow found its way through a pair of Winnipeg defenders and by Montoya for Kunitz’s 20th goal of the season.

The Penguins appeared to go in front 2-0 less than 2 minutes later when a slap shot from Dupuis rocketed by Montoya and caromed back into play. Half of the arena rose in unison, but the red light never came on and play continued.

No biggie. Not the way Pittsburgh is rolling.

Malkin scored his first goal since March 4 when a centering pass from James Neal hit off the Russian’s skate twice and rolled over Montoya’s right pad.

Dupuis singlehandedly doubled the lead in the second period. He scored his 16th goal of the season off a feed from Kunitz then added his 17th later in the period when he faked a pass to Tanner Glass and fired a wrist shot over Montoya’s glove. The short-handed goal pushed the lead to 4-0.

Winnipeg had no answer. The Jets rarely do in Pittsburgh. The franchise hasn’t beaten the Penguins on the road since Dec. 27, 2006, when the franchise was in Atlanta.

Barring a matchup in the playoffs, the Jets will have to wait until next season. Pittsburgh put an exclamation on its dominance by easily killing a nearly 2-minute, 5-on-3 power play early in the third period.

The crowd rose to its feet as the second penalty expired and the final 16 minutes felt more like an exhibition, the Penguins biding their time until Iginla arrives to join a team that looks very much like a Stanley Cup favorite.

NOTES: Pittsburgh G Marc-Andre Fleury was scratched from the lineup while he recovers from an upper-body injury sustained in a 1-0 win over Montreal on Tuesday. The Penguins brought up Jeff Zatkoff from the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes Barre-Scranton to serve as the backup to Vokoun ... Pittsburgh has outscored opponents 50-26 during the winning streak ... The Jets host Carolina on Saturday.

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