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Kunitz's two goals lead Penguins past Sharks

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he thinks the San Jose Sharks are the best team in the NHL. If that's the case, Pittsburgh beat the best team in the League by four goals on Thursday.

The Penguins used a four-goal second period to beat the San Jose Sharks 5-1 at Consol Energy Center. It was Pittsburgh's fifth straight win.

Sidney Crosby, who had three assists in his 500th NHL game, sent a pass back to Brooks Orpik at the point to help set up Pittsburgh's first goal. Orpik shot the puck into the crease, where Pascal Dupuis deflected it past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi to open the scoring 27 seconds into the middle period.

"I think that we were definitely motivated knowing that [San Jose] is a good team," Crosby said. "They generated a lot of chances, and we knew they had a lot of depth and we were going to be tested. I think every guy had to step up, and we did a good job."

Dupuis left the game about five minutes into the second and did not return with a lower-body injury. He will be further evaluated before an update is provided, Bylsma said.

Jayson Megna wristed a shot past Niemi 2:07 later to extend Pittsburgh's lead to 2-0. Chris Kunitz added two goals to push the Penguins' lead to 4-0 with 12:44 to play in the period.

James Neal chipped a puck off the wall and out to Crosby leading to Kunitz's first goal. Crosby snapped a shot off Niemi's shoulder, and Kunitz backhanded the rebound into the net for the Penguins' third goal 5:27 into the period.

Neal was also instrumental in Kunitz's second goal. He carried the puck to the goal mouth, leaving another rebound for Kunitz, who roofed his team-leading 16th goal into the top of net.

Alex Stalock played the third period after Niemi allowed four goals on 27 shots.

San Jose cut Pittsburgh's lead to three when Tomas Hertl sent a shot into the crease and Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland knocked the puck into his own net, cutting the Penguins' lead to 4-1 at 9:27.

The Sharks outshot Pittsburgh 24-15 in the second period and 45-30 overall, but could not capitalize on three power-play chances. The Penguins' League-leading power-play unit (26.5 percent) was 1-for-2.

Bylsma remained impressed with the Sharks despite his team's four-goal win.

"They're a team that does a really good job of getting pucks and bodies [to the front of the net], and they did that with the power plays that they had," Bylsma said. "They did that repeatedly, put pucks in the crease and got second chances. They did a very good job of that."

Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 44 shots, made several diving saves throughout the final 10 minutes of the period to maintain the three-goal lead. But Sharks forward Logan Couture said he thought Fleury was not at his best Thursday.

"I don't think Fleury was that good tonight," Couture said. "He gave up a lot of rebounds and a lot of shots. He looked shaky."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan agreed that the Sharks left several chances on the ice, but was more complimentary of Fleury's play.

"I don't think we should kid ourselves with many of those [shots]. Fleury did makes some really good saves," McLellan said. "We had some chances in and around the blue paint, five maybe six legitimate ones, but let's not get tricked by that number there.

"Their 28 or 30 they had, they made them count. The shot totals that counted at the end of the night were the five and the one, and we weren't even close."

Kris Letang added an insurance goal when he wristed a puck through traffic and past Stalock from the point 3:30 into the third.

The Penguins, who were without Evgeni Malkin (second behind Crosby in the League scoring race) after he left their morning skate Thursday with a lower-body injury, have gone 18-4-3 against Western Conference teams since the 2011-12 season and have won five of their first seven games against West teams this season.

The loss to Pittsburgh was San Jose's second in regulation in 11 games against Eastern Conference teams this season.

"Right from the first shift [in the second], from that point on, they scored four in a row, and it's just real, real tough to catch up from there," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "In the second period, we just lost the game."

Pittsburgh had the opening period's best scoring chance during its first power play. Matt Niskanen sent a snap shot ringing off the right post behind Niemi. The puck was cleared before the Penguins could pounce on the rebound.

San Jose forward Tyler Kennedy, who spent his first six seasons with Pittsburgh before being traded during the 2013 NHL Draft, made an impact 1:48 into the game when he sent Orpik to the ice with a heavy hit nine seconds after Orpik lowered his shoulder on Kennedy. Orpik retaliated with two equally devastating hits throughout the rest of the period.

It was Kennedy's 400th NHL game.

Pittsburgh led in hits 18-10 after the first period, which is when McLellan said he thought the Sharks began to allow the game to slip away.

"I go to the first period. Before we even got to the second, I didn't think we established ourselves in a speed game or even in a compete game," McLellan said. "They had their nose over the puck a lot more than we did. They fought for ice, and they fought for loose pucks a lot stronger than we did.

"We got away with it in the first, but not in the second."

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