December 20, 2013

NHL Roundup: Penguins on roll, beat Minnesota for sixth straight

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Chris Kunitz scored his 19th goal, Sidney Crosby had two assists and the Pittsburgh Penguins jumped out to a four-goal lead before beating the Minnesota Wild 5-2 Thursday night for their season-high sixth straight victory.

Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta sealed the Penguins’ win when he scored on a third-period penalty shot. Pascal Dupuis and Brandon Sutter each scored for the second consecutive game, and defenseman Matt Niskanen also tallied for Pittsburgh, which has won 11 of 12 overall.

Crosby extended his season-best point streak to nine games. He leads the league with 51 points.

The Wild played their first game without starting goalie Josh Harding, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. It’s a move that allows Harding time to make adjustments to medication for his multiple sclerosis. Harding, expected to return Dec. 27 at Winnipeg, led the league in goals-against average.

The Penguins, playing for the fifth time in nine nights, were without star forward Evgeni Malkin for the third straight game. Malkin, third in the league in scoring, injured his left leg last Saturday at Detroit. The Penguins were also without five of their top six defenseman for the third straight game, four injured and Deryk Engelland serving the third game of a five-game suspension.

Penguins’ forward James Neal returned to the lineup following a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston’s Brad Marchand in the head during a 3-2 loss to the Bruins. Neal was involved in a fight and had an assist.

It was a homecoming for Wild forward Matt Cooke, playing his first game in Pittsburgh where he spent five seasons before leaving this past summer by free agency. Cooke, an instrumental piece of the Penguins’ 2009 Stanley Cup run, has just 20 penalty minutes in 36 games this season, but he was a polarizing figure in Pittsburgh, serving multiple suspensions for several hits. He was recognized in the first period with a scoreboard video tribute.

Dupuis opened the scoring 49 seconds into the game, slamming home a rebound from the top of the crease. Niklas Backstrom had trouble handling the initial shot, giving up a rebound – tipped in the air by Crosby – that fell into the paint, allowing Dupuis to give the Penguins the early lead.

The Penguins struck less than two minutes into the second period as Sutter scored his eighth of the season.

Niskanen, who logged nearly 30 minutes of ice time Wednesday at New York, netted a power-play goal less than two minutes later with a slap shot from the point that got past a screened Backstrom.

Kunitz gave the Penguins a 4-0 lead seconds after a fight between Neal and Wild defenseman Keith Ballard, the third fight in two periods. Crosby set up the goal with a no-look backhand pass from the corner to Kunitz, who buried a one-timer past Backstrom.

Pominville got the Wild on the board 37 seconds later, re-directing Nino Niederreiter’s shot behind Jeff Zatkoff.

FLYERS 5, BLUE JACKETS 4: Claude Giroux scored the tying and winning goals in the final minutes of the third period, rallying host Philadelphia past Columbus.

Giroux scored two of the Flyers’ five third-period goals as Philadelphia stormed back from a 3-0 hole.

Goalie Steve Mason got the win in his first game against his former team.

MAPLE LEAFS 2, COYOTES 1: James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul scored in the shootout and Toronto won at home against Phoenix.

(Continued on page 2)

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