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Latendresse leads Wild past Penguins

by Brian Hunter
A trade to the Minnesota Wild provided a new lease on the hockey life of Guillaume Latendresse.

The fourth-year forward contributed three assists and then scored the go-ahead goal at 6:13 of the third period as the Wild completed a season sweep of the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, winning 4-3 at the Xcel Energy Center on Monday.

Latendresse set up goals by Eric Belanger, Martin Havlat and Cal Clutterbuck before he got by Pittsburgh defenseman Alex Goligoski and converted Kyle Brodziak's feed past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to send Minnesota to its third consecutive victory.

''It's great for me to have the chance to play on a team like that,'' Latendresse said. ''The chemistry's great. I like everything here.''

The goal was Latendresse's 12th of the season and 10th in just 21 games with the Wild, who acquired him in a Nov. 23 trade with Montreal for Benoit Pouliot. Both players have benefitted from getting fresh starts, in particular Latendresse, who now has 15 points with his new club.

''His play is elevated, and you can see that he's real confident,'' Minnesota coach Todd Richards said, adding: ''If he gets a step on you, you're beat. There's nothing you can do to stop him.''

Niklas Backstrom stopped 35 shots, after making 34 saves on Oct. 31 in a 2-1 Minnesota win at Pittsburgh.

''We're getting every team's best, every player's best,'' Goligoski said. ''Tonight just comes with the territory.''

Sidney Crosby tied Patrick Marleau of the Sharks for the goal-scoring lead with a pair of tallies and Pascal Dupuis also lit the lamp for the Penguins, who have lost seven of nine. They went 0-for-6 on the power play, including a 5-on-3 that lasted for 70 seconds with the score tied 2-2 early in the middle period.

''We just need to settle things down,'' Crosby said, assessing the power play. ''We made it pretty tough on ourselves.''

After letting a pair of one-goal leads slip away, the Penguins found themselves trailing 3-2 entering the third. Crosby evened things up at 1:04 when he redirected Mark Eaton's point shot past Backstrom, moving him out of a tie for second in goal-scoring with Marian Gaborik of the Rangers and into a tie for first with Marleau.

Crosby also opened the scoring at 3:44 of the first, but Belanger finished off a rush led by Latendresse by taking a shot that skipped wildly and eluded Fleury with 8:20 left in the period.

Dupuis, who assisted on Crosby's first goal, gave the Penguins another lead at 2-1 when he scored 54 seconds into the middle period, but that one only lasted 51 seconds before Havlat drew the Wild even.

Pittsburgh then had its golden opportunity when Derek Boogaard and Kim Johnsson took high-sticking penalties 50 seconds apart. But the Penguins' power play, which operates at 14.3 percent, 29th in the League, couldn't get a puck past Backstrom, who denied a Sergei Gonchar slap shot by whirling backward to fall on and freeze the puck after it slid from his grasp.

Clutterbuck followed by putting the Wild back in front with 7:57 left in the second, deflecting in a Latendresse shot.

''He gives us a lift when we need it,'' Clutterbuck said of his teammate. ''He's really good down low at chewing up the block in the offensive zone, and he's been huge for us.''

Material from wire services was used in this report.
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