The Pittsburgh Penguins have stepped up their play without the injured Sidney Crosby, picking up three consecutive wins that have them back in playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
They'll be missing their captain again Tuesday night as they try to continue their longest winning streak since mid-November in a matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pittsburgh (32-26-6) went 2-1-1 in its first four games under interim coach Dan Bylsma and Crosby played a big role, recording two goals and five assists. However, Crosby, third in the league with 79 points, left practice Feb. 24 with a sore groin and has missed the last three games.
Instead of reverting to the disappointing play that led to the firing of coach Michel Therrien on Feb. 15, Pittsburgh has put together its longest win streak since a six-game run from Nov. 1-15. The Penguins managed a lackluster 1-0 home win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday, but opened a five-game road trip by beating Chicago 5-4 in overtime Friday and won 4-1 over Dallas 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," Bylsma said. "We still need to get better and better going down the stretch."
Pittsburgh is 4-0 this season without Crosby.
That's due in large part to having the NHL's leading scorer on the roster. Evgeni Malkin scored in overtime against the Blackhawks and had a goal and two assists in Sunday's win, which pushed the Penguins into eighth place in the East.
"The trophy is not the thing right now, the two points are the thing," Malkin said.
Crosby had been participating in pregame skates and said he was improving, but the team ruled him out of Tuesday's contest after the morning skate.
While they'd like to have their captain in the lineup, the Penguins have plenty of experience - and success - playing without him. Crosby missed 21 games last season, but Pittsburgh went 11-6-4 during that stretch.
Malkin also powered the Penguins offensively in those contests, recording 14 goals and 22 assists while Crosby was out.
The Lightning (21-30-12) haven't had an easy time producing offensively this season, averaging 2.57 goals to rank in the bottom third of the league. They scored 15 goals while going 1-5-1 to close out February.
Tampa Bay, though, got off to a fantastic offensive start in March. Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis each scored twice in an 8-6 win over Calgary on Sunday night that snapped a seven-game road losing streak.
"The guys in here have stuck together through this. Guys aren't going to quit," said former Penguin Mark Recchi, who had five assists to move past Bryan Trottier into 14th on the NHL career list with 1,426 points. "It's been an interesting year, a frustrating year for all of us, but at the same time, you're not going to quit on each other."
Rookie center Steven Stamkos certainly hasn't. The top pick in the 2008 draft scored a goal in all three games of Tampa Bay's trip through western Canada.
The Penguins and Lightning have split two meetings this season, both in Pittsburgh. Malkin had two goals - one in overtime - in a 4-3 win Feb. 4.