Pens get physical to win ninth straight

Posted: March 12, 2012

JAMES NEAL saw the puck roll to the corner and sprinted to dig it out. The sight of hockey's most intimidating player standing in his way hardly mattered.

The Penguins forward shoved 6-9 Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara in the back then nudged the puck to teammate Evgeni Malkin. The NHL's leading scorer fed Matt Niskanen at the point, and when Niskanen's slap shot hit the back of the net the league's hottest team was on its way to a 5-2 home win.

"We wanted to get on [Chara] and be physical and affect him as much as possible," Neal said. "We did a good job at that from the first shift on."

Neal finished with three points, including his first goal since signing a $30-million contract extension last month for the Penguins, who have won nine straight to keep the pressure on the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers. Chris Kunitz, Arron Asham, Pascal Dupuis and Niskanen again also scored for Pittsburgh while Malkin had three assists to move into the NHL points lead with 84. Malkin also became the 17th Russian-born player to top 500 career points

"I not think about my points now," Malkin said. "The season continues and playoffs come soon."

The Penguins started the day four points behind the New York Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead and could get captain Sidney Crosby back by Thursday, when they start a pivotal three-game road trip at Madison Square Garden. Crosby hasn't played since concussion-like symptoms returned in early December but was cleared for contact last week and said on Saturday that playing soon is a possibility.

Whenever he comes back, Crosby will join a team that's starting to look like a Stanley Cup contender even without the former MVP's talents. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 shots to run his personal winning streak to eight, as the Penguins jumped on the Bruins early.

David Krejci scored twice for Boston, but the Penguins chased Bruins goalie Tim Thomas after the first period. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner stopped just seven of the 10 shots he faced before making way for Marty Turco.

In other games * 

At New York, Marian Gaborik scored the Rangers' third powerplay goal in the dying seconds of overtime, and New York snapped its season-worst, three-game regulation losing streak with a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders. Brad Richards scored twice on the power play to reach 20 goals for the ninth time, and helped set up Gaborik's winner for the Rangers.

* At Washington, the Capitals kept up their latest surge and piled on the misery of a fading playoff contender, with Michal Neuvirth getting his third shutout of the season in a 2-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have lost four straight and 10 of 11.

* At Columbus, David Perron broke a tie early in the third period, and Jaroslav Halak made 33 saves to help the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues beat the Blue Jackets, 2-1, for their season-high fifth straight victory.

* At Sunrise, Fla., Jose Theodore made 34 saves for his third shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers beat the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-0.

* At Chicago, Jeff Carter scored in regulation and Mike Richards scored the game-winner in a shootout, beating former Flyers teammate Ray Emery, in the Los Angeles Kings' 3-2 triumph over the Blackhawks.

* At St. Paul, Minn., Jarome Iginla scored early and set up Curtis Glencross' go-ahead goal late with a botched shot that became a pass, and the Calgary Flames hung on to beat the Minnesota Wild, 4-3.

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