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Penguins ride big second period to win vs. Wild

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins don't seem to be aware they are decimated by injuries.

With 10 regulars out of their lineup, the Penguins beat the Minnesota Wild 5-2 on Thursday at Consol Energy Center for their sixth consecutive win.

The Penguins surrendered a pair of goals after taking a 4-0 lead in the second period, but rookie defenseman Olli Maatta put the game away on a penalty shot 7:54 into the third.

At the tail end of a Minnesota 5-on-3, Maatta exited the penalty box and received a pass that sent him charging toward the net. He was tripped by Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin with Penguins forward Craig Adams still in the box, setting up a shorthanded penalty shot. Maatta deked to the right, brought the puck back to the left and shot at goalie Niklas Backstrom's pads. The puck slid over the goal line to give the Penguins a 5-2 lead.

"It's a big point in the game when we go down 5-on-3 for an extended period of time," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "You look at the clock and think, one or two power-play goals and it's a tied game. The guys are coming; it was a huge kill there.

"As the penalty kill is winding down, Olli comes out from the first one and he gets the puck. Olli with his mother's first game in the stands, he gets a big night."

Maatta, who also had an assist, became the second defenseman in franchise history to score on a penalty shot.

"I've tried that move in practice a couple of times, and that's probably the only move I've got," Maatta said. "It worked."

With a 1-0 lead after one period, Pittsburgh used a three-goal second period to gain a comfortable lead. Brandon Sutter started the period by scoring his eighth goal of the season and second goal in two nights at 1:54.

Mikko Koivu blocked a wrist shot from Maatta but lost the puck at his skates. He turned to find the puck, but Sutter dove around him and wristed a shot past Backstrom to extend the Penguins' lead to 2-0.

Matt Niskanen's second goal of the season gave Pittsburgh a three-goal lead 1:39 later. With Chris Kunitz screening Backstrom during a power play, Niskanen slapped a shot into the upper left corner of the goal.

The chemistry between Sidney Crosby and Kunitz was obvious on the Penguins' third goal of the period. Crosby retrieved the puck in the left corner and backhanded a pass to the front of the net. Kunitz raced past Koivu to the crease and met Crosby's pass for a one-time wrist shot that beat Backstrom and made it 4-0.

"With [Kunitz], you always know he's going to be around the net," Crosby said. "I ended up seeing some space there and he's able to get to the net pretty quick, but that's where he's going to be. So, he's going to score a lot of goals around there, and I was happy we were able to capitalize."

Kunitz, who was credited with the Penguins' first goal after it initially was awarded to Pascal Dupuis, leads the team with 20 goals. Crosby extended his point streak to nine games with two assists. He has 15 points (six goals, nine assists) during the streak.

Pittsburgh's defense was equally impressive, even without injured regulars Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi, as well as suspended defenseman Deryk Engelland. The Penguins have allowed two or fewer goals in nine of their past 11 games.

Jeff Zatkoff made 24 saves in earning his sixth straight win after starting the season 0-2-0. Backstrom, who started in place of goalie Josh Harding, out for medical reasons, is now 2-6-2 on the season with a 3.12 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.

"I think my last game was pretty good and today I could have been better," Backstrom said. "If you play a good game or bad game, you want to be better next time. You try to learn from every game."

Jason Pominville got Minnesota on the board 37 seconds after Kunitz's second goal to send the Wild into the third period facing a three-goal deficit. It was his team-leading 16th goal.

Dany Heatley made it 4-2 at 3:13 of the third with a wrist shot past Zatkoff. It was his seventh of the season and first since Nov. 29.

The Penguins got off to a quick start to the first period, but could not carry the momentum past the first few minutes like they were able to in the second. Pittsburgh took advantage of a mishandled rebound by Backstrom to take a 1-0 lead 49 seconds into the game.

Maatta sent a wrist shot into Backstrom's glove, but the Minnesota goalie fumbled the puck into the crease while Dupuis, Kunitz and Crosby converged on the net. Crosby backhanded the puck at Backstrom, producing another rebound. Kunitz finished the play by tapping the puck past a few scrambling Wild players and into the net.

The goal originally was given to Dupuis, then was changed to Kunitz afterward.

The Penguins have scored a goal in the opening minute of three consecutive home games.

Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said he was not satisfied with his team's effort.

"The whole game, 'frustrating' I think is the wrong word, I think 'maddening' is a little bit more appropriate," Yeo said. "To come out and get outbattled and outworked, that was disappointing."

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