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Penguins 6, Lightning 3

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins just keep winning and waiting for the playoffs to begin. The Tampa Bay Lightning just keep losing and waiting to be officially eliminated.

Pittsburgh, the top team in the Eastern Conference and already locked into one of the top two playoff slots, won its third straight and 18th in its last 20, thrashing the Lightning 6-3 Thursday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The Penguins (31-10-0) maintained a five-point lead on the Montreal Canadiens foe the East's top playoff seed. Tampa Bay (17-21-2) is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after dropping three of four.

Still dazzling with superstar Sidney Crosby out because of jaw surgery, Pittsburgh blitzed the Lightning at the outset, taking a two-goal lead on even-strength and power-play scores barely six minutes into the game.

The Penguins took a 3-2 lead into the second intermission, then got goals from Evgeni Malkin and Jussi Jokinen within the first five minutes of the third period to put the game out of reach.

Jokinen, who scored two goals and had an assist against his former team, gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead when a shovel pass into crease from Brenden Morrow went in off his skate. Jokinen had sneaked behind defenseman Eric Brewer to position himself in the crease in front of goaltender Ben Bishop. Pascal Dupuis had the secondary assist on Jokinen's eighth goal of the season.

Tampa Bay's Pierre-Cedric Labrie was whistled for hooking just 23 seconds later, and 28 seconds after, that Dupuis rushed to the net to fire in the rebound of a Tyler Kennedy shot from the slot. The goal was Dupuis' 20th.

Teddy Purcell scored on a power play to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 16 minutes left in the second. His ninth of the season came off a pass to the slot from Steven Stamkos.

Chris Kunitz upped the lead to 3-1 less than two minutes into the second period with a deep blast from the left on a power play, his 21st of the season. Assists went to trade deadline acquisition Jarome Iginla and Kris Letang.

Tampa Bay responded on the power play, however, as Brett Connolly took a pass from Richard Panik to score from the slot with 14:14 left in the period. The goal was Connolly's first this season.

Malkin scored his eighth of the season for a 4-2 lead less than two minutes into the third, skating in against a defenseless Brewer to score unassisted. Jokinen added his eighth three minutes later, and Tanner Glass had his first of the season with 3:20 remaining.

Purcell scored with 18 seconds left.

Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped 16 shots for the win.

NOTES: D Kris Letang returned for Pittsburgh after missing six straight games with a lower-body injury believed to be a broken toe. His 28 points (in just 28 games) was third-best among defensemen. ... Pittsburgh entered with five straight wins against the Lightning. ... Stamkos is tied for the NHL lead in goals (26) with the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin. ... The Lightning's Tyler Johnson (58 points, 32 goals with Syracuse) was named an American Hockey League first-team all-star while Brett Connolly (57 points, 27 goals, seven game-winners) and Mark Barberio (40 points, 32 assists) made the second team. ... Bishop has started all four games played by the Lightning since being acquired in a trade last week. He entered 2-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average. He lost Thursday despite making 35 saves.
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