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Malkin's hat trick powers Penguins to 8-1 win

by Brian Compton

"Sid made good passes to me twice and the power play played good tonight.  We played very well the whole game."
-- Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin picked quite the time to notch his fourth career hat trick.

With Team Russia GM Vladislav Tretiak in the crowd, Malkin scored three times while Bill Guerin added two goals and two assists as the Pens went home for Christmas tied with New Jersey atop the League standings after demolishing the Ottawa Senators in an 8-2 victory at Mellon Arena on Wednesday night.

Guerin and Chris Kunitz tied a club record with four points apiece during Pittsburgh's five-goal second period, when Ruslan Fedotenko also scored.

"He's a good guy and of course a good goalie," Malkin said of Tretiak. "Maybe he can come (to) the next game; it's good luck for me."

Sergei Gonchar added a goal and two assists and Sidney Crosby had three assists for the Penguins (26-11-1), who tied a season high for goals and matched New Jersey's 53 points in first place of the Atlantic Division.

"In a game like this, a couple guys will have big nights and that's good to see," Guerin said.

Not only were the Sens blown out of the building, but they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson in the process. On the same night when Pascal Leclaire, Shean Donovan and Chris Neil returned to the lineup, Alfredsson was caught with his head down in the first period by Pens forward Craig Adams. The impact caused Alfredsson's helmet to fly off and he laid on the ice for a brief time. He's expected to miss a few weeks with an injured left shoulder.

"I'll probably see the doctor (Thursday) and do an X-ray and see what the damage is," said Alfredsson, whose arm was in a sling. "But I expect at least a few weeks."

Anton Volchenkov and Chris Kelly scored for Ottawa, which has lost four of six. The Sens outshot the Pens 24-9 in the first period but headed to the intermission locked in a 1-1 tie.
"(Alfredsson's) a big loss," said Leclaire, who was pulled during the second intermission after allowing six goals on 24 shots. "He's definitely our leader and a key player on our team. It seems we're getting the injury bug a little... but we have some good guys in here. We all have to step it up a little bit."

Malkin's third goal of the night was the last of seven straight tallies by Pittsburgh and came 6:33 into the third period on a setup by Crosby. The 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy winner entered Wednesday's action with just two goals in his previous 10 games.

"Sid made good passes to me twice and the power play played good tonight," Malkin said after helping the Pens improve to 9-2-1 over their last 12 games. "We played very well the whole game."

Coyotes 4, Ducks 0 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

Anyone under the impression that Phoenix isn't for real may have changed his/her mind after what transpired at Arena on Wednesday. Ilya Bryzgalov made 21 saves for his League-leading fifth shutout of the season and Scottie Upshall scored his third goal in two games as the Coyotes blanked Anaheim for their eighth consecutive win on home ice.

"We didn't give them anything tonight, and that was our plan," Bryzgalov said. "We wanted to pressure them all over the ice and force them to make turnovers. We executed well and paid attention to the little things because in the big picture it's the little things in hockey."

The Coyotes' home winning streak is their longest since an eight-game streak in 2002 and is the longest since the team moved to Arena midway through the 2003-04 season. Martin Hanzal, Taylor Pyatt and Robert Lang also scored for Dave Tippett's club.

Upshall broke a scoreless tie 8:20 into the game, flicking a rebound over Jonas Hiller for his 13th goal of the season. Hanzal made it 2-0 at 16:29 when he took a pass from Radim Vrbata and ripped a hard wrister from the left point past Hiller.

"It was a huge game for us because it was a divisional game and we needed these two huge points," Hanzal said. "We played really well, really hard and really tough."

Pyatt made it a 3-0 game when he notched his 200th career point at 10:09 of the second, when he beat Hiller -- who left the game with just over seven minutes remaining in regulation -- on a one-handed wraparound. Lang put the game away when his shot from the left circle got past Jean-Sebastien Giguere with 3:50 left.

"I thought as poorly as we played, it should have been a 1-0 hockey game going into the third period," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "I'm not dumping on the goalie and saying it's his fault. We didn't have a lot going. But we have to have those saves made in those situations."

Bruins 6, Thrashers 4 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

Marc Savard, Daniel Paille and Vladimir Sobotka scored during a 1:08 span of the first period and the Bruins hung on against Atlanta at TD Garden.

Boston had leads of 3-0 and 5-2, but a two-goal rally by Atlanta, the second goal by Ilya Kovalchuk with 4:52 left, forced Patrice Bergeron to seal the deal by scoring into an empty net with 3.5 seconds left.

The Bruins, who entered Wednesday's action without a goal in 13 consecutive power plays, converted three times with the man advantage against the Thrashers. All three of Savard's points came on the power play.

"Two huge wins before Christmas," veteran forward Mark Recchi said after Boston's second victory in three nights following an 0-2-2 skid. "We hit a little bump there, but we've showed character the last two games."

The win was Boston's eighth in a row over the Thrashers, who haven't beaten the Bruins since Dec. 29, 2007. Atlanta, which opened a seven-game road swing (including two games in Boston), have lost three straight games.

"At the 10-minute mark, we let down for about a minute there and they scored a couple of quick goals," Atlanta coach John Anderson said.

Five of the game's goals were scored in the first period, and the Bruins escaped to the intermission with a 3-2 lead after opening the game with three straight tallies. Bryan Little trimmed the deficit at 14:44 before Maxim Afinogenov made it a one-goal game with 2:32 remaining.

But Zdeno Chara scored on the man advantage 2:14 into the second and Michael Ryder made it a 5-2 game with a power-play goal of his own at 9:32 of the third. Evander Kane and Kovalchuk beat Tim Thomas (25 saves) in a 70-second span to make it 5-4 until Bergeron sealed the deal in the game's final seconds.

"I don't think we were on top of our game defensively," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "What was important was we found a way to win."

Islanders 3, Maple Leafs 1 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

John Tavares ended a six-game scoring drought and Dwayne Roloson made 26 saves as the Isles snapped a three-game skid with a win over Toronto at Nassau Coliseum.

Trent Hunter and Blake Comeau also scored for the Islanders, who won on home ice for the first time since Dec. 12. They had lost four in a row at the Coliseum.

"We kept it simple," said Tavares, who has a team-high 16 goals, most among rookies. "Our last few games we've been sloppy. We stayed out of the penalty box and we had a back-pressure that took the pressure off the defensemen."

Jonas Gustavsson made 20 saves for the Leafs, who lost for the fourth consecutive time on the road. Niklas Hagman scored the lone goal for Toronto in the third period, when the Leafs outshot the Isles 14-6.

"We didn't compete hard enough on our forecheck until it was too late," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said.

Hunter broke a scoreless tie at 10:47 of the second, just moments after a power play expired, on a wrist shot from the left circle. Tavares made it 2-0 when he took a nifty pass from Comeau and poked it past Gustavsson just 90 seconds later.

The victory allowed the Islanders (14-7-7) move one point ahead of the Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings. Scott Gordon's club will cross the East River to take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

"They were right behind us, and we didn't want them to catch up to us," said Tavares, a Toronto-area native. "It was a big win to feel good heading into the holidays."

Canadiens 5, Hurricanes 1 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

It was just another day at the office for Jaroslav Halak. The Montreal goaltender stopped another 46 shots while Glen Metropolit connected twice on the power play as the Habs cruised to a victory in Carolina.

Andrei Markov, Andrei Kostitsyn and Sergei Kostitsyn also scored for the Canadiens, while Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez each had three assists.

Halak, who was one save shy of matching the career high he set last time out against Atlanta, has stopped 133 of 137 shots in his last three games.

"You've got to be lucky for us to win these games. I got lucky tonight, I got lucky the night before and before (that)," Halak said. "Hopefully it's going to stick with me."

Brandon Sutter scored for Carolina, which pulled starting goalie Cam Ward after he allowed three goals on seven shots in less than 10 minutes.

Manny Legace made 16 saves for the Hurricanes, who have lost two straight, are 2-5-1 in its last eight and are the only team that hasn't cracked double digits in victories. While the players are calling the situation desperate, their coach says they aren't necessarily playing that way.

"We can talk about that, but until you see it on the ice, I would say no," Paul Maurice said. "The words are all nice, but it happens on the ice."

Four of Montreal's five goals came in the opening period. Sutter was able to cut Carolina's deficit to 2-1 at 7:21 after Markov and Andrei Kostitsyn scored in a 2:13 span, but Sergei Kostitsyn restored the two-goal lead at 9:32 before Metropolit made it a 4-1 game via the power play with 2:52 left in the first. Metropolit scored again with the man advantage with 1:57 remaining in the second period.

"We stuck to our game plan -- we got pucks in deep, our power play was key right away," Metropolit said. "A team like that, they've been playing hard, but you get them down a couple goals, and maybe they're pressing a little too much, and we took advantage of it."

Wild 3, Oilers 1 | HIGHLIGHTS

There's something about Edmonton that brings out the best in Niklas Backstrom. The Minnesota goalie made 30 saves and improved to 14-1 lifetime against the Oilers and 11-0 at Xcel Energy Center.

"It seems like he has our team's number," Oilers forward Shawn Horcoff said. "Tonight it actually seemed like he wasn't that comfortable in there. He was kicking out some rebounds and we just weren't picking up quality chances at the net."

Backstrom preserved a 2-1 lead for the Wild as he stopped Patrick O'Sullivan on a third-period breakaway and Sheldon Souray on a shorthanded chance late in the game. Guillaume Latendresse secured the victory with an empty-net goal at 19:54 of the third.
"I don't try to think about that," Backstrom said of his success against the Oilers. "It's the same as when you go out and think about the shutout -- the next shot is going to be a goal. It's a good team to play against."

Owen Nolan broke a 1-1 tie with his ninth goal of the season at 18:22 of the second when he flipped a backhander past Jeff Deslauriers, who made 24 saves. Andrew Brunette and Robert Nilsson exchanged tallies in the first period.

"There were a lot of good things we could take out of there," Oilers coach Pat Quinn said. "If we can just get rid of some of those boneheaded soft plays, we'll get there."

Flyers 5, Lightning 2 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

Philadelphia's trip to Tampa got off to a strange start when Tuesday's practice was canceled because of a sewage line problem in their locker room. Just when it seemed as if the Flyers were about to create a stink on the ice, too, they avoided disaster by scoring three unanswered third-period goals after blowing a 2-0 lead en route to a victory at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Blair Betts and Mike Richards each had a pair of goals and Michael Leighton made 31 saves for the Flyers, who have scored three times or more in just three of their last 15 games.

"I don't score too often, obviously," said Betts, a checking center who has all of 31 goals in 356 NHL games. "I've always said you need your third- and fourth-line guys to contribute offensively. For the most part, we've been relying on too few individuals to carry the load."

Zenon Kenopka and Victor Hedman scored for the Lightning, who have lost 11 of their last 14 contests.

"Unacceptable," said Konopka, who hadn't scored in 61 games. "Painful. Frustrating. It's not good enough at all. We have the horses. If we continue on this road, we're not making the playoffs."

Philadelphia responded to Hedman's game-tying goal at 12:02 of the second with three third-period tallies against Mike Smith. Betts scored midway through the period to restore the Flyers' lead before Richards made it 4-2 with his 15th goal of the season at 17:22. Simon Gagne secured the win with an empty-net goal at 19:26.

"When you get these, it's a minor step," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's really important and the guys worked for it, especially in the third period. We need to follow it up with a whole bunch of big steps."

Stars 3, Blue Jackets 1 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS

Twenty-four hours after Columbus brass held a lengthy meeting, the Blue Jackets came up empty again. James Neal scored twice and Alex Auld made 33 saves as Dallas skated past Columbus at the American Airlines Center.

"Even though they had a few more shots than we did, I thought the guys limited their chances," Auld said. "We did a good job keeping the shots on the outside and letting me see the puck."

Rookie Jamie Benn had a first-period goal, and Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson had two assists each for the Stars, 6-1-2 in their last nine at home.

On Tuesday, Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson, coach Ken Hitchcock and his staff and 10 veteran players gathered to discuss the state of the team, which is now 0-6-2 in its last eight and 1-8-3 in December.

"I just think we didn't play well," Hitchcock said. "If we're going to score more we've got to go to the net more. We need everybody maxing out for us to win, and that's what we're going to have to get."

Rick Nash opened the scoring with his 19th goal of the season at 11:16 of the first, but it was the only shot to get past Auld all night. Benn tied it when he beat Steve Mason (25 saves) with 2:37 left in the first, and Neal gave the Stars the lead 6:18 into the second when he put a rebound past the Columbus goaltender. He converted another rebound midway through the third for his 18th goal of the season.

"He's got real good hands and he gets to pucks around the net," Stars coach Marc Crawford said of Neal. "He showed his physical nature. That's his game."

Material from wire services was used in this report

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