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Penguins blank Jets for 14th consecutive win

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Talk about the perfect month.

Not only have the Pittsburgh Penguins added two former captains to their already star-studded lineup, they're one victory away from capping the only perfect full month the NHL has ever seen.

Pascal Dupuis scored two goals, Tomas Vokoun made 20 saves for his 50th career shutout and the Penguins dominated the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 Thursday night for their 14th consecutive victory.

Should Pittsburgh win at home Saturday against the New York Islanders, it would cap the only calendar month of at least 10 games without a loss or tie by a team in NHL history.

"We know that the streak is nice," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said, "but at the end of the day it doesn't really mean anything. It's a result of our hard work, but I don't think anyone is going to remember that come playoff time."

Evgeni Malkin had a goal in his return from a nine-game injury absence, and Chris Kunitz scored for Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh (27-8-0), which extended its home winning streak to a franchise record-tying 11 games.

The Penguins shut out an opponent for the second consecutive game and have allowed nine goals in their past 10 contests.

"We have great players -- and even the great players understand what we need to do to win," Vokoun said. "Sometimes that's even more important than having them."

Pittsburgh is on the verge of adding another great player. Jarome Iginla, acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames early Thursday morning, did not join the Penguins in time for this game.

Though coach Dan Bylsma called his top line of Kunitz, Dupuis and NHL scoring leader Crosby "the best line in hockey" and vowed to keep it together, speculation abounds that Iginla will skate on Crosby's wing.

That makes sense -- Iginla has 525 career goals and was on Crosby's line at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Dupuis, though, seemingly won't give up the coveted spot without a fight, even as he politely and steadfastly maintains he'll play anywhere with anyone.

"The main goal here is to win, and everybody has to work toward that as a team," Dupuis said.

Dupuis scored 4:12 into the second period off assists from Kunitz and Crosby to tie Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos for the NHL lead with 15 even-strength goals. Dupuis added his 17th overall with 1:23 to play in the second, his NHL-high eighth shorthanded goal over the past three seasons.

Dupuis' second goal was his 200th point with the Penguins. He just missed his second career hat trick 4-1/2 minutes into the third when his redirection of Matt Niskanen's slap-pass went wide of a vast expanse of open net.

Dupuis hit the post late in the first period during the same shift that Malkin eventually scored his sixth of the season, his second since Feb. 20. Malkin missed 13 of the previous 16 games with a concussion (four games) and a shoulder injury (nine games).

"It didn't take [Malkin] long to get flying out there," Crosby said.

Crosby had another assist on Kunitz's goal that opened the scoring 15:03 into the game. Crosby's blind backhand backward pass from below the goal line onto the tape of Kunitz's stick was arguably the prettiest of his League-leading 41 assists this season.

Kunitz's goal was his 20th, the third consecutive season and the fifth time in his career he's had at least that many.

Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec did not start for the first time in 12 games. He started both of the Jets' games at Consol Energy Center last season, in which the Penguins scored eight times each.

"This has not been a friendly building for Pavelec," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "But you can see that it's not been a friendly building for a lot of teams the last 14 games -- whether it's in this building or somewhere else.

"They're playing with a lot of will, and you can see who drives that team, and when that happens when you watch that team go. They're very good, but I think they can be beaten. I would have liked to put our 'A' game out there tonight, but we didn't."

Al Montoya made his first start since March 7, second since Feb. 9, and had 39 saves in defeat.

Vokoun came on in relief of Marc-Andre Fleury at the start of the third period of Tuesday's 1-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens. Fleury sustained an upper-body injury that kept him out of Thursday's game. He took part in the morning skate and said he felt OK, but the team recalled Jeff Zatkoff from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League in the afternoon.

Vokoun extended his personal winning streak to six. In his past six appearances, Vokoun has a 0.80 goals-against average and a .971 save percentage. He is the 26th NHL goalie to record 50 shutouts.

"Pretty amazing number," Bylsma said.

One of Vokoun's best saves was stopping Kyle Wellwood on a partial breakaway with 7:42 to play. Vokoun, who has two shutouts this season, also turned aside two shots during 1:56 of Winnipeg 5-on-3 time early in the third.

The Penguins have not allowed a goal in their past 148:24 of play.

Douglas Murray was part of that penalty-killing effort in his Penguins debut. The hulking defenseman, acquired in a trade from the San Jose Sharks on Monday, registered three hits, a blocked shot, two shots on goal, and a plus-1 rating in 18:20 of ice time.

"It's a good mood around here," Murray said. "These guys are really special."

Former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow played 14:38 in his second game with the Penguins after coming over in a trade Sunday.

The winning streak is the tied for the third-longest in NHL history. The Mario Lemieux-led Penguins had a record 17-game run going at this time 20 years ago.

Crosby has 11 points in a six-game point streak and a 12-point lead over Kunitz for the League scoring lead. The Crosby-Kunitz-Dupuis line has combined for 32 goals over the past 17 games.

The Penguins have won 12 in a row at home against the Jets franchise, which maintained its six-point lead in the Southeast Division.

"Luckily for us," Winnipeg defenseman Ron Hainsey said with a degree of tongue-in-cheek, "I don't think we'll see these guys again until the conference finals."

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