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Penguins win 15th in row, do it without Crosby

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins might have assembled a veritable virtual All-star team, but it's the unheralded players and unnoticed plays extending their winning streak.

Backup goalie Tomas Vokoun made 35 saves for his second consecutive shutout, Matt Cooke scored the winner the shift after being a major part of an extended 5-on-3 penalty kill, and the Penguins won their 15th consecutive game, 2-0 against the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon.

The Penguins tied the 1982 Islanders for the second-longest winning streak in NHL history and established a franchise record by winning their 12th straight game at home.

"Real proud of a lot of areas in how we played to get the win and gut that out," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Jarome Iginla made his Penguins debut, joining Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray as veterans who joined the team this week after being acquired in trades.

But even with the additions, the Penguins began Saturday's game not only without their No. 1 goalie between the pipes but also without their top two defenseman (based on ice time). They ended it without their two leading scorers too.

Defenseman Kris Letang missed his second consecutive game because of a lower-body injury and the team announced early Saturday that defenseman Paul Martin would be out for approximately six weeks because of an unspecified broken bone in his upper body that will require surgery Sunday.

Captain Sidney Crosby was knocked out of the game during his first shift by a puck to the face, and goals leader Chris Kunitz was given a game misconduct late in the second period upon being penalized for checking from behind.

"You lose one [forward], that's one scenario," Cooke said. "But you lose two from the top line, it's tough."

James Neal scored about five minutes after Cooke's goal with 11:50 left in regulation, but the Penguins hardly need insurance goals these days.

Pittsburgh has won by shutout in each of its past three games, all of them finished by Vokoun. Starter Marc-Andre Fleury was back in uniform on the bench Saturday after missing Thursday's 4-0 win against the Winnipeg Jets. He left Tuesday's 1-0 victory against the Montreal Canadiens with an upper-body injury.

The Penguins have not allowed a goal in 208:24, a franchise record. Vokoun's scoreless streak of 162:42 is a personal best and the record for a Penguins goalie. Vokoun's shutout was his third of the season and 51st of his career.

"It's nice to come up with a shutout, but to preserve a winning streak is even better," Vokoun said. "We had a lot of fun with it."

Pittsburgh has allowed nine goals over the past 11 games. The team's 15-0-0 March marks the first time in League history a team that played at least 10 games had a perfect record over a calendar month.

The NHL record for most wins in a row is 17, set by the Penguins March 9-April 10, 1993.

"It's been like this for a bunch of games as of late, they're one-goal games or two-goal games, they're going to be tough," Neal said. "Not scoring in the first 20 minutes or 40 minutes. But we knew if we kept playing the right way we were going to get a lucky bounce, and [Cooke] got a goal."

The game remained scoreless through two periods, but the Islanders began the third with 93 seconds of 5-on-3 play. New York, which entered with the NHL's top road power play, was awarded a five-minute advantage with 3:37 left in the second when Kunitz was penalized for his hit on Josh Bailey. Brooks Orpik was called for tripping 3:04 later.

Bailey went face-first into the boards in the left-wing corner on the play and did not return. Islanders coach Jack Capuano said after the game that Bailey underwent unspecified testing and "fortunately is OK."

It was the second game in a row the Penguins were buoyed by a third-period 5-on-3 kill of almost a full two minutes.

"Every time that we get a big kill, that's the loudest this crowd has been," Cooke said. "It definitely energizes us."

Cooke was a major part of the penalty-killing unit that denied all three Islanders' chances. His goal was his sixth of the season but first since having two against the Montreal Canadiens on March 2, the first game of the Penguins' winning streak.

Cooke pounced on a rebound of a Deryk Engelland shot, turned and beat New York goalie Evgeni Nabokov with a wrist shot.

"I think every time you don't score on a 5-on-3, you lose the game," Islanders defenseman Mark Streit said. "It was no different today."

Reigning 40-goal scorer Neal's goal was his first in 10 games. Neal skated down the right wing and fired a wrist shot that beat Nabokov to the far side for his 18th of the season.

Cooke's goal came about 30 seconds after Vokoun made a game-altering save on a Michael Grabner breakaway.

Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin had an assist in his second game back after a nine-game absence because of a shoulder injury.

The Penguins took four of five from the Islanders this season in what could be a Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series preview. The Islanders entered the game tied with the New York Rangers for the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot; Pittsburgh opened a nine-point lead atop conference over Montreal.

The Islanders had a season-high three-game winning streak snapped.

"I don't look at it as their top two scorers are out," Capuano said. "I mean, that team's pretty dynamic right there. You just saw what they can do."

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