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Kessel, Letang lift Penguins past Predators

Forward scores twice, D-man has goal, assist in Pittsburgh's fourth straight win

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins capped their surge through March with a 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators that has them in second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Phil Kessel scored twice, and Kris Letang and Nick Bonino each had a goal and an assist at Consol Energy Center on Thursday.

Kessel opened the scoring following an impressive series of passes by the Penguins.

Bonino retrieved the puck just inside the blue line along the far wall before sending a cross-ice pass to Justin Schultz with Bonino's back to the play and Predators defenseman Petter Granberg barreling toward him. Schultz immediately sent a no-look pass by a sliding Paul Gaustad and behind Mattias Ekholm to Kessel, who shot into an open net with goalie Pekka Rinne diving to recover 3:06 into the first period.

Video: NSH@PIT: Kessel sneaks behind net, scores

After Ryan Johansen tied it 1-1 late in the first, Kessel scored again 2:29 into the second period after defenseman Trevor Daley sent him cruising into the Nashville zone. Approaching the top of the right circle, Kessel shot past Barret Jackman's stick blade and into the upper-left corner of the net for his 25th goal and a 2-1 lead.

Kessel has four goals and five assists in the past four games.

"I think we always believed in here," Kessel said. "We always knew we had a good squad. We just kept on battling and improving."

Daley had two assists for Pittsburgh (44-25-8), which has won 10 of 11 games and passed the New York Rangers, who lost 4-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes, for second place in the division. The Penguins (96 points), who were 12-4-0 in March, and Rangers (95 points) each have five games remaining.

Video: NSH@PIT: Kessel roofs his second goal of the game

"I thought it was a complete game, once again," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought to a man, for the most part, we played hard. We were competitive on the pucks. We made pretty good decisions with the puck, and when we did make mistakes, I thought we had people back supporting to recover so that they had to come through us to get to our net.

"We've been talking for a few months now about becoming a difficult team to play against and what does that mean. … I think, right now, our guys are buying in. They believe in one another and they're playing hard."

Johansen scored with 1:00 remaining in the first when he snuck a shot between goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and the right post after receiving a pass from former Penguins forward James Neal. Johansen has 10 points in the past nine games, and Neal has 13 points during that stretch.

The Predators (39-26-13) failed to clinch a Stanley Cup Playoff berth for a third consecutive game. They will clinch if the Colorado Avalanche lose in regulation to the Washington Capitals on Friday.

Video: NSH@PIT: Hornqvist redirects puck for power-play goal

"It doesn't really matter [how we clinch]," Nashville defenseman Roman Josi said. "We still kind of did it ourselves. We have to get in the playoffs. We had three chances to clinch and we wanted to clinch as soon as possible. We can't decide what's going to happen tomorrow night with Colorado, so we just have to make sure we're ready for our game Saturday (against the San Jose Sharks)."

Letang one-timed a Chris Kunitz feed past Rinne at 10:57 of the second period to make it 3-1. He has two goals and four assists during a four-game point streak. After scoring 26 points in his past 27 games, Letang's 61 points are second on the Penguins.

Neal scored his eighth goal in nine games to make it to 3-2 with 5:36 remaining in the second before Patric Hornqvist scored another Pittsburgh power-play goal, his first goal against his former team, to restore the Penguins' two-goal lead four minutes later.

Carter Hutton replaced Rinne to begin the third period. Rinne, who made 25 saves, has been pulled in two of the past three games.

Video: NSH@PIT: Fleury denies Neal's shot with pad save

"I thought [Rinne] was our best player," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "It got to four there and [he was pulled] just to make a change and look for something else. He had taken a lot of shots and there has been a lot of work going his way. Carter has done a good job as well, but I thought Pekka had to make a lot of saves tonight. A lot of them."

Bonino scored his second goal in as many games, and his third in four games, to increase Pittsburgh's lead to 5-2 with 4:11 remaining in the third.

"I think it works both ways. When you're not getting points, they're tough to come by, and right now, for our line, I think we're playing the right way," Bonino said. "I think that's why they're coming."

Video: Kessel's two goals key Penguins' 5-2 win

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