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Penguins cruise to third win in a row

The SportsXchange

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are slowly getting healthier with seven games left in the regular season.

Meanwhile, the squad of players acquired at the trade deadline to maintain the momentum of the Eastern Conference's top team keep doing just fine while waiting for the return of stalwarts Sidney Crosby and Paul Martin.

Four new acquisitions contributed to Thursday's win. Jussi Jokinen scored two goals and had an assist, Jarome Iginla had two assists, and Douglas Murray and Brenden Morrow had an assist each as the talent-rich Penguins thrashed the plummeting Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3 at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang had an assist and logged 23 minutes of ice time after missing six games with a lower-body injury.

Crosby, out recovering from jaw surgery, was cleared to travel, and he joined the team Thursday. Martin is slated to do the same Friday. Even in their absence, the Penguins won their third in a row and 18th in 20 by scoring on three of nine power plays chances and outshooting Tampa Bay 41-19.

There is no timetable for Crosby's return to the ice, and Martin could be out another month, but the Penguins seem equipped to keep going until their possible arrival deep in the postseason.

"Kris was a welcome guy back to our lineup, to see how very good he was all over the ice," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He made a difference five-on-five. But the power play benefitted from Kris back there as well."

The Penguins (31-10-0) maintained a five-point lead on the Montreal Canadiens for the East's top playoff seed.

Tampa Bay (17-21-2) is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after dropping three of four. The Lightning looked bewildered despite pulling within a goal in the second period.

"That's a really good hockey team," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the Penguins.

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 Jokinen within the first five minutes of the third period to put the game out of reach.

"We obviously didn't generate a lot of shots," the Lightning's Ryan Malone said. "We made some mistakes that ended up with the puck in the back of our net. They obviously have a good team over there, and you don't want to give them too much time and space."

Jokinen gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead when a shovel pass into the crease from 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 (35 saves). Pascal Dupuis had the secondary assist on Jokinen's eighth goal of the season.

"When I got traded here, I heard I was going to start to play with players like Dupuis, so I am expecting to contribute with those kind of players and those kind of minutes with that kind of power-play time," Jokinen said.

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 Ignila and Letang.

Tampa Bay responded on the power play, 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: Letang has 29 points in 29 games. ... Pittsburgh has won six straight wins against the Lightning. ... Stamkos is tied for the NHL lead in goals (26) with the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin. He is second in points (51) after collecting an assist Thursday. ... The Lightning's Tyler Johnson (58 points, 32 goals with Syracuse) was named an American Hockey League first-team all-star. 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.

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