Posted February 26, 2012 on AP on Fox
Evgeni Malkin scored his 37th goal of the season, Brad Thiessen made 21 saves in his NHL debut and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-2 on Sunday. Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang and Joe Vitale also scored for Pittsburgh, which woke up from a slow start to win for the ninth time in their last 10 home games. Steve Sullivan added a pair of assists as the Penguins completed a weekend sweep of Tampa Bay and Columbus with ease. Thiessen played well while giving Marc-Andre Fleury a rare day off, showing no jitters against the league's worst team. Rick Nash scored a short-handed goal in perhaps his final game with Columbus. Vinny Prospal also score for the Blue Jackets but Columbus crumbled in the third period. Curtis Sanford stopped 36 shots but let three goals in during a 10-minute stretch in the third period. Malkin took firm control of the scoring race on Saturday when he torched Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson for his ninth career hat trick, the second tally coming on a ridiculous end-to-end rush in which he weaved his way through four Lightning players, tucking the puck past Roloson and then letting the goalie know about it. The All-Star forward moved his point total to 78 on the season Sunday, though his fourth in 24 hours wasn't nearly as pretty, but just as effective. His power play goal from the doorstep with 47 seconds left in the second period tied the game at 1 and gave Pittsburgh some momentum heading into the third. Chris Kunitz appeared to put the Penguins up 2-1 early in the third period but the referees ruled Kunitz kicked the puck into the net. No biggie. Dupuis left no doubt just over a minute later, circling behind the net then beating Sanford from a tough angle from about 20 feet, thanks in part to a screen by Jordan Staal. The Penguins appeared to make it 3-1 four seconds into a power play but referees again waved it off after Kunitz briefly tangled with Sanford before Letang's slapshot from the point hit the back of the net. Again Sanford couldn't take advantage of the reprieve. Letang beat the goalie again later in the power play and this time it stood as the Penguins completed a successful weekend that saw them leapfrog New Jersey in the crowded Eastern Conference playoff race. While the Penguins prep for the postseason, the Blue Jackets are in the midst of another miserable season and face a major rebuilding project. The first moves came last week when Columbus shipped forward Jeff Carter to Los Angeles for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round draft pick and send Antoine Vermette to Phoenix for a pair of picks. Their best asset remains Nash, and the All-Star forward's agent has made it very clear the Columbus captain wishes to be dealt before Monday's trade deadline. There was no movement on Sunday, though Nash did his best to up his trade value when he took advantage of some sloppy puck handling by the Penguins power play unit to score his 21st goal of the season midway through the second period. A lazy backhand pass to nobody in the neutral zone went right to Nash at the top of the Pittsburgh zone and he deftly beat Thiessen with a wrist shot to put Columbus up. Sanford, sporting eye-catching light-blue pads to complement the team's third jersey, did his best to make it stand. He turned away the first 25 shots he faced before Neal found Malkin on the doorstep in the final moments of the second. It seemed to deflate the Blue Jackets, and when Pittsburgh reeled off three straight goals it was enough to make Thiessen a winner. The 25-year-old played solidly if not spectacularly in his first game while filling in for usual backup Brent Johnson, who is dealing with an illness. Thiessen made his first NHL save with his mask about 4 minutes in, a welcome to the NHL moment he's sure to remember. NOTES: Pittsburgh forward Arron Asham was scratched on Sunday less than a week after returning from a concussion. Asham played 12 minutes against the Lightning on Saturday but sustained an upper-body injury in the third period after hitting Tampa Bay's Brenden Mikkelson. The Penguins also scratched defenseman Ben Lovejoy. ... Columbus hosts Detroit on Tuesday while the Penguins begin a two-game road trip in Dallas on Wednesday.
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