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Penguins lose Crosby, but still win

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PITTSBURGH -- The crowd fell silent and his Pittsburgh Penguins teammates' hearts sank a little when Sidney Crosby skated off the ice holding a towel over his mouth one minute and 32 seconds into Saturday's game.

The NHL's leading scorer was forced from the game after being struck in the mouth by a puck. He headed to a nearby hospital for oral surgery after losing some teeth.

"It was really scary," Penguins left wing Matt Cooke said. "You hate to see that."

Yet nothing can stop the Penguins these days, as they went on to win their 15th consecutive game by blanking the New York Islanders, 2-0, behind Tomas Vokoun's 51st career shutout and second in a row.

Cooke and James Neal scored third-period goals to draw the Penguins to within two of the NHL record for consecutive victories. The Penguins won 17 in a row from March 9-April 10, 1993.

"It felt like we were gutting out a playoff-type game," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "We had to shuffle the deck a little bit but we were able to gut it out.

"I'm really proud in a lot of areas in how we got that win."

The Penguins finished March with a 15-0 record and became the first NHL team to go undefeated in a month in which it played at least 10 games.

The Islanders (16-16-3) entered the day tied with the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but had their three-game winning streak end.

The Penguins, who have the best record in the league at 28-8-0, were able to win even without Crosby, who was hit when teammates Brooks Orpik's slap shot deflected off the Islanders' Lubomir Visnovsky.

The Penguins did not say how extensive Crosby's surgery was or if he might miss any games.

Crosby wasn't the only player Pittsburgh lost. Left wing Chris Kunitz, who entered the day third in the league in scoring, received a game misconduct for checking from behind with 3:27 left in the second period when he drove Islanders center Josh Bailey into the boards.

New York coach Jack Capuano said Bailey did not sustain any injuries.

"I saw the hit," Capuano said. "I'm not going to comment on the hit. Fortunately, (Bailey) is OK."

Kunitz's ejection came after the Penguins lost key defensemen in their previous two games. Kris Letang broke a toe in Tuesday night's victory over the Montreal Canadiens and Paul Martin is scheduled to go undergo surgery Sunday for what is believed to be a broken wrist -- the team would not confirm the injury -- in a win over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

Despite the personnel losses, the Penguins recorded their third straight shutout and set a club record by not allowing a goal for 208:24. The previous mark was 187:30, set in 1993.

Vokoun, filling in for injured starter Marc-Andre Fleury (sore neck), was outstanding in net as he stopped 35 shots. His biggest save came with the game scoreless and 12:22 left, when he stonewalled Michael Grabner on a breakaway.

"It was a tough game because the Islanders really played well," Vokoun said. "I feel good about getting this shutout and the way the guys played in front of me.

"I'm playing with a lot of confidence right now and so is the rest of the team. We're having a lot of fun. We're not caught up in the streak. We're just enjoying winning.:

The Penguins are three victories away from breaking the winning streak record. They host Buffalo on Tuesday night, then could tie the record Wednesday night when they visit the Rangers in New York, and break it Friday night in a home game against the Rangers.

The Islanders, meanwhile, missed a golden opportunity to snap the streak, as they failed to take advantage of Crosby and Kunitz leaving the game.

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

"We had an opportunity and that's what you ask of the guys. We were prepared. I thought they stuck to the game plan real well."

The game was scoreless until 8:10 of the third period, when Cooke scored on a wrist shot from the right side of the net. It was Cooke's sixth goal of the season, but first since March 2, the day the Penguins' winning streak began.

Cooke played a big role in Pittsburgh killing Kunitz's major penalty that turned into a two-man advantage for the Islanders when Orpik was called for tripping with 33 seconds left in the second.

Neal broke a 10-game scoring drought and made it 2-0 when he beat Evgeni Nabokov on a snap shot from the right circle on an odd-man rush at 13:20, getting his 18th goal of the season. Nabokov made 25 saves.

Superstar winger and future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla made his Penguins' debut a little more than 12 hours after arriving in Pittsburgh late Friday night following his trade from the Calgary Flames.

The trade was made in the wee hours of Thursday morning but Iginla was unable to leave Canada until gaining a work visa Friday morning.

Iginla was eager to play, even though the Penguins' original plan was to have him practice with the team Monday and then make his debut Tuesday night.

Saturday marked the first time Iginla had played for team other than the Flames during his 16-year career. The Penguins acquired him for a first-round draft pick and college prospects Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino.

Iginla received a rousing ovation from the home crowd when the starting lineup was announced. He played 16:34 and was plus-1 while taking three shots and being credited with two hits.

"I was so happy when the coach (Bylsma) told me I could play," Iginla said. "It would have been tough to sit and watch the game and even tougher to wait a few more days before we had our next game.

"It's great to be part of this team and playing right away helped get rid of the nerves and a lot of the stuff that goes with making the transition to a new team."

Despite being a right wing throughout most of his career, Iginla often played on the left side on a line with center Evgeni Malkin and Neal on the right wing.

The last time Iginla saw consistent playing time at left wing was during 1998-99.

"I'm happy to try left wing or whatever Dan wants," Iginla said. "I've played over there before and I can get comfortable there.

"This team is playing great and I just want to help it keep winning."

NOTES: Brook Orpik blocked four shots and played in his 621st career game, tying Ron Stackhouse for the Penguins' record for a defenseman. ... Lubomir Visnovsky was in the lineup after agreeing Friday night to a two-year, $9.5-million contract extension that prevents him from becoming a free agent at season's end. New York reportedly is trying to sign Nabokov, defenseman Mark Streit and right wing Brad Boyes, who all are pending free agents. ... Defenseman Roberto Bortuzzo was scratched for Pittsburgh, along with centers Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale. ... The Islanders' scratches were left wing Eric Boulton and defensemen Joe Finley and Radek Martinek.
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