Crosby, Pens Move in on Division Crown
AP Sports Writer
Sidney Crosby set up goals by Marian Hossa and Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins, playing at close to full strength for the first time in weeks, moved into first place in the Eastern Conference by beating the New York Rangers 3-1 on Sunday.
Marc-Andre Fleury played another excellent game in net, turning aside 26 shots. The Rangers, missing an opportunity to move into fifth place in the conference, controlled much of the play for the final two periods but couldn't score in the final 56 minutes.
Fleury has won his last seven games.
The Penguins, closing out an unbeaten March at home and winning their 10th in 13 games, moved ahead of idle Montreal 99-98 in the conference race with three games remaining for each team. The Penguins need to win only once in their final three games to clinch their first division title in 10 years, and can do so as early as their rematch with the Rangers in Madison Square Garden on Monday night.
One more victory would give the Penguins 101 points, a total that only one division rival, New Jersey, could match. However, the Devils can't surpass the Penguins in total victories _ the first tiebreaker _ unless Pittsburgh loses its final three and New Jersey wins its last four. The Penguins won the season series from New Jersey 4-3-1.
Brandon Dubinsky scored on a power play goal set up by Jaromir Jagr with 3:03 gone, but Hossa _ finally playing a full game on a line with Crosby _ tied it midway through the first with his 29th goal. Crosby used a spin move to create an opening along the goal line to pass to Pascal Dupuis, who fed the puck to Hossa in the high slot.
Malkin scored his 46th with Pittsburgh owning a two-man advantage late in the first, on a slap shot from 40 feet off Sergei Gonchar's pass _ an opportunity created when Crosby gathered the rebound of Hossa's miss. Malkin trails Washington's Alex Ovechkin 109-104 in the scoring race.
Pittsburgh's Max Talbot scored on a rebound in the final minute after goalie Henrik Lundqvist fumbled Rob Scuderi's soft shot.
Hossa, acquired from Atlanta in a trading deadline deal, couldn't get on a line with Crosby for weeks as Hossa had a knee injury and Crosby missed more time with an ankle sprain that occurred in mid-January. Even when they finally played together Thursday against the Islanders, Hossa missed part of the game with a head and neck injury.
This time, Malkin left briefly after being cut on the neck, apparently by Dubinsky's skate, with 6 minutes remaining in the second period but returned to start the third.
There was a slight possibility this was the 421st and last game in Pittsburgh for the Rangers' Jaromir Jagr, who won the Stanley Cup during his first two NHL seasons with the Penguins in 1990-91 and 1991-92. While the 36-year-old Jagr is all but certain to become a free agent, he recently dismissed reports he might not play in the NHL next season if it's not with the Rangers or that he might return to Russia, where he played during the NHL lockout season in 2004-05.
Notes:@ The Penguins are 7-0 at home this month. ... The Penguins will sell out a season for the first time in the club's history when they play the Flyers on Wednesday night, their final regular-season home game. ... Malkin has four goals in his last two home games against the Rangers. ... The Rangers have won four of the seven in the season series, one in overtime. ... The Penguins are 9-0-2 at home since Feb. 13. ... The Rangers are 18-7-3 vs. the Atlantic Division. ... Fleury is 9-1 since sitting out three months with a high ankle sprain.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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