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Leafs Drop Second Straight

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
PITTSBURGH -- Pascal Dupuis scored twice and had an assist, and the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Wednesday night for their seventh straight victory.

Jordan Staal added a goal and an assist to extend his points streak to a career-best six games and rookie Brad Thiessen stopped 22 shots.

The Penguins started the day by unveiling a statue honouring Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux outside Consol Energy Center. The three-time MVP, now the team owner, watched from his box as Pittsburgh won for the 11th time in its last 12 home games to strengthen its hold on fourth-place in the Eastern Conference.

Phil Kessel and Carl Gunnarsson scored for Toronto. The Maple Leafs let an early two-goal lead slip away while falling to 1-2 since Randy Carlyle took over as coach following Ron Wilson's firing.

Carlyle's hiring was supposed to rejuvenate a team that has fallen to the fringe of the playoff picture over the last month. Toronto beat Montreal on Saturday night in his first game behind the bench, but there has been no bounce. The Maple Leafs have lost six of seven and are five points behind eighth-place Winnipeg in the playoff race.

Pittsburgh has no such worries, riding goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the line of Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz to the inside track for home ice in the opening round of the playoffs.

Fleury received an unexpected night off and while the Maple Leafs kept Malkin _ tied for the NHL scoring lead with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos _ in check, the trio of Dupuis, Staal and Matt Cooke filled in capably.

Thiessen wasn't bad either, another promising sign as the Penguins search for a reliable backup. Veteran Brent Johnson has struggled all season and is dealing with an undisclosed injury. Enter Thiessen, who was solid in his NHL debut against Columbus on Feb. 26, stopping 22 shots to pick up his first career victory, though he was quick to credit Pittsburgh's defence after beating the woeful Blue Jackets.

While the Penguins again limited the number of chances Thiessen faced, he was stellar during the third period, making a series of saves on a late Toronto power play to extend the NHL's longest active winning streak.

The Maples Leafs managed just three shots in the first period but still took the lead a minute in the second period during a chippy sequence that ended with Kessel's 34th goal of the season. Toronto's Tyler Bozak won a puck battle in the corner and fed Jake Gardiner in the slot. Bozak then headed to the net where he got knocked into Thiessen. The two lay sprawled on the ice while Gardiner hit Kessel standing wide open at the far post to give the Maple Leafs the lead.

Gunnarsson made it 2-0 with a nifty deflection on a shot by Mikhail Grabovski, but just like Toronto's last visit to Consol Energy Center, it wouldn't hold up. Pittsburgh roared back from a 4-1 third-period deficit to win in a shootout on Jan. 31, with Malkin tying the game with a deflection off his shoulder in the final seconds of regulation.

Dupuis put Pittsburgh on the board less than 2 minutes after Gunnarsson's goal, redirecting a shot from the point by Matt Kiskanen past Toronto's Jonas Gustavsson.

Staal tied it 1:34 into the third period with a similar play off a shot by Brooks Orpik. Dupuis put Pittsburgh in front less than 3 minutes later for his first multiple-goal game since he scored twice against New Jersey last April.

NOTES: Pittsburgh centre Sidney Crosby skated on Wednesday morning. The former MVP missed his 37th straight game because of concussion-like symptoms but has been cleared for contact and could return to the ice as early as next week. ... The Penguins continue their four-game homestand on Friday night against Florida. The Maple Leafs are off until Saturday, when they host Philadelphia. ... Staal has 15 points in 12 games since his return from a knee injury.

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