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Malkin shines as Pens win third straight

by Brian Compton
The absence of Sidney Crosby is bringing out the best in the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists and Marc-Andre Fleury made 20 saves as the Pens won their third straight without Crosby in a 4-1 victory against the reeling Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center on Sunday.
''We're playing right now without Sid -- an outstanding player -- and eventually we will get him back and add to how we're playing,'' said interim coach Dan Bylsma, 5-1-1 since getting the job on Feb. 15. ''We still need to get better and better going down the stretch.''
It was the second of a five-game road trip for the Pens, who recently lost Crosby to a groin injury but managed to jump ahead of Buffalo and Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Malkin has shined in Crosby's absence, as he had three more points to give him 92 in his last 64 games.
''We have to keep improving if we want to make the playoffs,'' Fleury said. ''We've had such a tough time and a battle to get back into contention.''
Pittsburgh struck early as Jordan Staal grabbed a 1-0 lead just 4:08 into the game. After backup goalie Tobias Stephan made an initial save on Malkin, Staal was there to stuff home the rebound for his 17th goal of the season. Kris Letang put the Pens up by a pair when he took a pass from Malkin and beat Stephan via the backhand at 16:21. The Stars -- who have lost five straight -- were outshot 9-5 in the opening 20 minutes.
''Teams are smelling blood when they play us and feel we're down and out,'' veteran center Mike Modano said. ''They feel if they play well, we'll lay over and bow out. That ought to be incentive for us to surprise some teams. We're at a crossroads right now. We need to heighten the alert level and the desperation level.''
Pittsburgh continued to pour it on in the second period. Miroslav Satan made it 3-0 at 8:18 thanks to a turnover by Trevor Daley. Malkin gave the Penguins a four-goal lead just 4:20 later on the power play as he beat Stephan through the pads for his 29th tally of the season.
Loui Eriksson helped the Stars avoid a shutout when he beat Fleury on the power play 6:02 into the third period. Dallas, which has been blanked five times this season, opens a three-game road trip on Tuesday against Pacific Division rivals San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.
''Nobody's feeling sorry for us,'' Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas said. ''Nobody's going to give us a game. It's a big trip coming up. We're in a tough spot right now. We didn't have any emotion this afternoon.''

Panthers 6, Capitals 2 | VIDEO
Stephen Weiss, Bryan McCabe and Jay Bouwmeester all scored power-play goals in the first period as Florida quickly turned things around following Saturday's dreadful 7-2 loss at New Jersey.
''It was such a boost to our confidence to just get our power play going. It's been so long,'' McCabe said. ''We've been struggling immensely of late.''
The Panthers were preparing to face Washington when their pregame video session was cut short less than halfway through because the visitors' projector broke. Florida came in having scored on fewer than 15 percent of its man-advantage chances this season, ranking 26th of 30 NHL teams. But its power play was just fine on this day.
''We didn't get to go over most of our stuff, including the power play,'' Florida coach Peter DeBoer said. ''Maybe it's a good thing.''
The Capitals got off to a good start when Alexander Semin beat Craig Anderson (32 saves) just 1:26 into the game.
''We very easily could have said, 'Oh, here we go again. It's not our night.' But we buckled down and really took it to them after that,'' McCabe said.
Indeed they did, as the Panthers responded by scoring four times before the conclusion of the first period. Weiss, McCabe, Bouwmeester and Richard Zednik all beat Jose Theodore, who was replaced by Michal Neuvirth to start the second. McCabe also had three assists in the victory.
''We got beat to every loose puck. It seemed like they had the puck in the power play for the whole two minutes in our zone every time,'' Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. ''I can't sugarcoat it and I can't find excuses for it. We weren't very good.''
Jassen Cullimore beat Neuvirth at 10:24 of the second period to make it a 5-1 game, and Michael Frolik gave Florida a five-goal lead with his 15th goal 7:20 into the third. Alex Ovechkin notched his 46th goal of the season in the final minute.
''I thought they were a little bit flat,'' DeBoer said of the Caps, ''and to our credit we took advantage of it.''

Blackhawks 4, Kings 2 | VIDEO
Chicago certainly knows how to make its new goaltender feel comfortable.
The Blackhawks scored three first-period goals in Antti Niemi's first NHL start and snapped an 0-2-1 slide with a win against Los Angeles at the United Center. Niemi, who made his NHL debut on Friday when he relieved Cristobal Huet to start the third period of an overtime loss to Pittsburgh, finished with 22 saves.
''I was nervous, but not too bad,'' Niemi said. ''I was able to feel pretty good and nervous at the same time.''
Chicago has not gone more than three games without a win this season and hasn't dropped more than two straight in regulation. But Jonathan Toews gave his team a reason to smile when he scored 47 seconds into the game. Duncan Keith gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead at 6:18 of the first.
''When you lose three in a row, it gets your attention,'' Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. ''A good start was something we were looking for, and getting that lead early helped.''
It was a 3-2 game before the opening period concluded. Jack Johnson made it 2-1 on a power-play goal at 8:22, but Dustin Byfuglien restored Chicago's two-goal lead at 16:22. Anze Kopitar gave the Kings some momentum when he beat Niemi at 19:19, his 20th goal of the season.
Los Angeles, which opened the trip with a 2-1 shootout win at Minnesota, are in the midst of a 1-5 skid.

''We kind of shot ourselves in the foot,'' Kopitar said. ''That first period wasn't good at all. When you fall behind right away, it kind of kills the motivation right off the hop.''
Niemi was solid the rest of the way, as he stopped the final 15 shots he faced. Chicago outshot the Kings 14-7 in the second period and 10-8 in the third. Dave Bolland iced the victory with a power-play goal as he beat Jonathan Quick from the edge of the crease with 43 seconds to go.
''They're a great skating team," Kings coach Terry Murray said of the Blackhawks. "They could be a dangerous team in the playoffs.''

Canucks 3, Blue Jackets 1 | VIDEO
Sami Salo and Ryan Kesler scored power-play goals 1:47 apart late in the first period and early in the second, as Vancouver won for the 10th time in 12 games with a victory against Columbus at GM Place.

The victory allowed the Canucks to move four points ahead of the sixth-place Blue Jackets, who have lost three of four and lead No. 9 Nashville by just two points.
Roberto Luongo made 19 saves for Vancouver (32-22-8), which has won five straight home games, also moved five points ahead of eighth-place Anaheim, and has two games in hand on the Ducks.
''We knew they were either going to be tied with us in the standings or we were going to be four points up,'' Kesler said of Columbus. ''Four points is big nowadays. We want to separate ourselves from the (logjam) in the bottom of the playoff spots there.''
Salo opened scoring 68 seconds after Fedor Tyutin's hooking penalty, firing a slap shot from the point past Steve Mason with 4.2 seconds remaining in the first period.
"We knew they were either going to be tied with us in the standings or we were going to be four points up.  Four points is big nowadays. We want to separate ourselves from the (logjam) in the bottom of the playoff spots there." -- Ryan Kesler
Kesler made it 2-0 on the same power play, as he parked himself in front of the net and deflected Mats Sundin's one-timer between Mason's legs for his 19th goal of the year.
''That was one of our better games, not just lately but I think since the beginning of the year,'' Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. ''Our turnovers were very limited. We got out of our zone real quickly against a team that forechecks real hard, and were able to get in their zone. When you don't spend a lot of time in your end then you're not giving the other team a lot of opportunities.''
Nash cut the deficit in half 6:18 into the third with his 27th goal, but the Canucks secured the victory when Alex Burrows beat Mason at 11:51. The Blue Jackets had won the first three meetings between the teams this season.
''Usually, we're not even in the race right now,'' Nash said of the playoff push. ''We've had a great season so far. But it's not worth coming this far and giving in -- we've got to keep going.''

Material from wire services was used in this report.

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