Penguins beat Bruins 5-2 for ninth straight win

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By WILL GRAVES, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — James Neal had a goal and two assists, and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat Boston 5-2 on Sunday for their ninth straight victory.

Chris Kunitz, Arron Asham, Pascal Dupis and Matt Niskanen also scored for Pittsburgh. Evgeni Malkin had three assists to move into the NHL points lead with 84, two ahead of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 34 shots to run his personal winning streak to eight, as the Penguins jumped on the Bruins early then held on.

David Krejci scored twice for the Bruins, but the Penguins chased Tim Thomas after the first period to keep the pressure on the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.

Pittsburgh's winning streak is the second-longest in the league this season behind a 10-game run the Bruins put together in November.

The Bruins have been stuck in a holding pattern since that streak ended Nov. 23, unable to play with any kind of consistency. They appeared to be ready to bust out of their funk last week with wins over Toronto and Buffalo, but the momentum evaporated in a span of 28 hours.

The Bruins let enigmatic Washington jump ahead early and hold on for a 4-3 victory on Saturday afternoon in Boston. Then they hopped on a plane to Pittsburgh to prep for a game that was moved up seven hours to accommodate national television.

The sluggishness showed during Pittsburgh's dominant first period. The Penguins attacked from the opening faceoff, winning every important puck battle while slapping the Bruins around.

Asham's fourth goal of the season came after one such victory, as Craig Adams dug the puck out of the corner then passed it to Ben Lovejoy at the point. Lovejoy's slapshot was blocked, but Asham pounced on the rolling puck and beat Thomas with ease less than four minutes in.

Pittsburgh's second goal was almost a duplicate of the first. Neal slammed into Boston's Zdeno Chara and pushed the 6-foot-7 defenseman out of the way. Malkin came in to fish the puck out and send it to Niskanen, who fired a shot that appeared to deflect off Chara and into the net.

Malkin picked up the 500th point of his career, becoming the 17th Russian-born player to reach the milestone.

The Hart Trophy candidate had his 501st before the end of the period, hitting a streaking Neal on the power play to make it 3-0 with 1:12 to go before the first intermission. The goal was Neal's 31st of the season but first since signing a six-year, $30 million contract extension Feb. 19.

That was enough for Thomas, who was making his ninth straight start. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner started the second period on the bench in favor of Marty Turco, appearing in his first NHL game in nearly a year.

Turco was playing in Austria before the Bruins signed him to replace injured backup Tuukka Rask. His appearance was the first for Boston by a goaltender other than Thomas or Rask since Manny Fernandez took the ice for Boston in 2009.

Turco let in an early goal by Kunitz but was sharp otherwise, making a sprawling save on Jordan Staal a few minutes after entering, and the Bruins seemed to settle down.

The victory closes out a 4-0 homestand for the Penguins, who begin a critical three-game road trip Thursday against the Rangers, a game that could mark the return of captain Sidney Crosby. The former MVP hasn't played since Dec. 5 because of the return of concussion-like symptoms. He was cleared for contact last week and said Saturday playing in New York was a possibility.

NOTES: Boston D Adam McQuaid and C Max Sauve both left with undisclosed injuries. ... Pittsburgh's winning streak is the franchise's longest since 12 straight during the 2010-11 season ... Staal assisted on Dupuis' third-period goal to extend his points streak to a career-best seven games.

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