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Penguins continue to roll with 5-3 win over Lightning

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Guy Boucher had first-hand knowledge of Sidney Crosby's ability to carry a team.

Even when he doesn't have his sidekick.

Playing without reigning National Hockey League scoring champion Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins got two goals and an assist from Crosby in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 on Sunday night at Consol Energy Center.

Malkin sustained a concussion colliding into the boards in a victory against the Florida Panthers on Friday, but the team's other former Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner, Crosby, led Pittsburgh to its fifth win in its past six games.

"Listen, I coached (Crosby) two years in Junior; I've seen it all with Sidney," said Boucher, now the Lightning's coach. "I was hoping not to see it tonight. He can do it other nights, but not tonight."

Crosby moved into third place on the Penguins all-time points list, but remains one point behind Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead. Stamkos had a goal and two assists for the Lightning, who also got goals from Eric Brewer and Cory Conacher.

Beau Bennett's first career goal came during a 5-on-3 and Paul Martin and Matt Cooke each added a goal and an assist for the Penguins (13-6), who tied the Montreal Canadiens atop the Eastern Conference with 26 points.

Pittsburgh built a 3-0 first-period lead and held off Tampa Bay to improve to 20-2-1 over the past three seasons against Southeast Division teams at home. Crosby has particularly torched the division, putting up 42 points in his past 20 games against the Southeast's five teams.

Crosby entered the game a point behind Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead, but tied him 1:16 in when he took a pass from Chris Kunitz and slipped a wrist shot high and to the stick side over Lightning goalie Anders Lindback.

In 12 of 19 games this season, Pittsburgh has scored at least once in the first 5:07. The Penguins have scored before their opponent in 15 of 19 and trailed at the first intermission just three times this season.

Crosby's ninth goal of the season came at 7:15, when Martin took a shot from the point and the puck pinballed off of the shafts of the sticks of James Neal and Crosby before Lindback inadvertently kicked it into the net with the back of his skate.

"I just felt it hit my heel -- and then it hit probably three other guys, so I'll take it," Crosby said. "Sometimes that's what you need."

The point was the 636th of Crosby's career, tying him with Rick Kehoe behind only Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr on the Penguins' all-time scoring list.

Martin added his 11th point in the past 10 games when he scored for the third time this season during the final minute of the first. Cooke earned the primary assist, the 200th of his career.

Things could have unraveled at that point for the Lightning, who played in Raleigh, N.C., the previous night. Boucher canceled the morning skate and publicly fretted about how the Penguins were at home resting over the previous 48 hours.

But instead of folding, Tampa Bay scored twice in the first 3:14 of the second, beginning with some luck when the Penguins had an "own goal" of their own. Brewer was credited with his fourth of the season 97 seconds into the period when a puck deflected off of Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik and into the net.

"You give that team a three-goal lead, you get Crosby going early in the first period, it's going to be a tough night," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "I thought we hung in there and we didn't panic, we stuck with it and we fought back.

"Every team is facing back-to-back games -- you can't use that. It can't be a crutch."

Stamkos snapped a 3-for-32 slide for the Lightning power play with a 5-on-3 goal -- his fifth consecutive game with a goal -- but the Penguins regained a two-goal cushion with a two-man advantage tally of their own at 12:20.

Bennett, the team's first-round pick two years ago, was on the ice in lieu of Malkin on the Penguins power play. Letang picked up an assist to extend his point streak to a career-high five games.

"It wasn't trying to blow it through the net or anything, just get it on net," Bennett said. "It felt pretty good, definitely, and to get a big win with it as well goes hand in hand. It felt awesome."

The Lightning lead the National Hockey League in third-period goals with 32 and had scored four times during the final period Saturday. Just 3:15 into the third Sunday, Conacher extended his point streak to five games and padded his lead in the rookie scoring race when his one-timer past Marc-Andre Fleury cut Pittsburgh's lead to 4-3.

But Cooke sealed it with an empty-net goal with 51.2 left.

Crosby has six three-point games in February and 28 points on the season. Fleury made 27 saves to win for the fifth straight start and eighth time in nine games.

"As long as we win, we get two points, everybody's happy," Fleury said. "The team's been playing great in front, so it's a big help."

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