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Red-hot Sidney Crosby powers Pittsburgh Penguins past Carolina Hurricanes

By Alan Robinson, The Sports Xchange
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Red-hot Sidney Crosby powers Pittsburgh Penguins past Carolina Hurricanes
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) joins Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) and Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta (3) in celebrating the Penguins 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on March 17, 2016. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

PITTSBURGH -- The second line did a lot of the damage, but nobody in the NHL might be playing any better right now than the Pittsburgh Penguins' No. 1 star.

Sidney Crosby scored twice for his 30th and 31st goals of the season, Phil Kessel added a goal and an assist and goaltender Matthew Murray withstood giving up two early goals as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2 on Thursday.

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"To be able to bounce back is really big," said Penguins center Nick Bonino, who finished it off in the third period by scoring the last of their four consecutive goals.

The Penguins closed to within one point of the Islanders for the No. 3 playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division as New York lost to the Nashville Predators 4-2.

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Crosby extended his scoring streak to 10 games -- the first time in his career he's had two such streaks in a season -- and the Penguins came back from a 2-0 deficit barely five minutes into the game to win their fourth in a row.

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They are 3-0 since star center Evgeni Malkin went down for at least the rest of the regular season with an injury Friday and Crosby has three goals and two assists in those three. He has six goals and 10 assists during his 10-game streak.

In 82 career games without Malkin in the Penguins' lineup, Crosby has 34 goals and 70 assists for 104 points.

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Second-line left winger Carl Hagelin had a career-high three assists, setting up Bonino's fifth of the season, with 6:40 remaining. Bonino, replacing Malkin as the second-line center, skated to the far post and put in Kessel's perfectly placed pass from along the goal line.

"When we get that (second) line going offensively, we're harder to play against," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "We can't keep relying on the same guys every night."

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Unless it's Crosby, of course.

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Murray, starting at Consol Energy Center for the first time since Dec. 30, made 31 saves and shut out Carolina over the final 54:50 after allowing the game's first two goals to Phillip Di Guiseppe and Riley Nash.

"It puts you in a scary spot (up 2-0) because obviously you've got to keep your foot on the gas ... going up two that quick in the game is kind of dangerous," Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce said.

Di Guiseppe turned a Chris Kunitz turnover into a rather soft goal 42 seconds into the game, beating Murray with a wrist shot for his seventh goal. Nash made it 2-0 by scoring from in front on a sequence that began with Chris Terry failing to convert on a 3-on-1 rush.

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Murray, who beat New Jersey 6-1 on March 6 in his last previous start, tightened up after that and is 4-2-1.

"A lot of times with young goalies, that (being down 2-0) can rattle him, but it didn't faze him," said Sullivan, whose team put a season-high 48 shots on Carolina goalie Eddie Lack. "He has a calm demeanor."

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Said Murray: "I think we're always pretty confident. We know we're capable of scoring goals."

Crosby is the perfect example. The Penguins captain got the comeback going by using an inside-out move while skating across the crease to beat Lack at 13:53, assuring him of his seventh 30-goal season in a career that began in 2005.

"We didn't have a great start, but it sparked our level of desperation," Crosby said. "I tried to take it to the net, had some space."

Kessel tied it midway through the second, ending a six-game streak without a goal with his 21st. Defenseman Ian Cole whiffed on a shot in front, but the puck went directly to Hagelin, and he promptly fed it to Kessel for an undefended shot along the edge of the crease.

Crosby, the only NHL player this season with two scoring streaks of 10 games or longer, gave the Penguins the lead with 2:01 left in the period -- going to his knee to perfectly redirect Cole's pass to the slot.

"They're a fast team -- we've got a quick team ourselves but I think they played faster tonight," Di Guiseppe said. "They were putting pressure on us the whole game."

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Crosby has six two-goal games this season and another with a hat trick.

NOTES: The Hurricanes have scored the first goal in 15 of their last 22 games in Pittsburgh, but have gone on to lose eight of those. ... Penguins LW Scott Wilson (lower body) needs surgery and is out indefinitely, according to coach Mike Sullivan. Wilson injured what appeared to be an ankle or foot Friday in Columbus. ... The Penguins no doubt were glad longtime antagonist C Eric Staal no longer is with Carolina after being traded to the New York Rangers last month. Staal has 19 goals and 27 assists in 48 games against Pittsburgh. ... Carolina played the fourth contest of a five-game road trip. The Penguins face a difficult weekend at Philadelphia on Saturday and at home against the Washington Capitals on Sunday. Both teams are ahead of them in the standings. ... Penguins D Ben Lovejoy (13 games) and F Beau Bennett (23 games) appear close to returning from upper-body injuries. ... Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury's eight 30-win seasons are second among active goalies to Henrik Lundqvist's 10 for the Rangers. ... Carolina scratched D Justin Faulk and C Andrej Nestrasil. Pittsburgh held out D Derrick Pouliot, G Jeff Zatkoff, Lovejoy, Wilson and injured C Evgeni Malkin.

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