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Penguins keep pace with Rangers on top of Metro

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Sidney Crosby is tied for the NHL goal-scoring lead, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are tied atop the division.

They certainly impressed the struggling Florida Panthers and their new coach.

Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Penguins over the Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight, scoring 24 goals in the process. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead on five shots less than eight minutes in.

“It was nice to start with the lead. It was kind of weird the way things worked out,” Crosby said. “We didn’t have many shots, but we had a few goals right off the bat.”

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers.

Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses.

“I thought we showed them way too much respect in the beginning of the game. We were back on our heels a little bit,” Rowe said. “Obviously, they’ve got two of the best players in the world and I think it could have intimidated some of our younger guys a little bit.”

The Panthers have lost six of seven.

“It’s a work in progress, I guess,” Rowe said. “We’ve still got a lot of young guys in the lineup.”

Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on Crosby’s goal 3:06 in. Crosby snapped a wrist shot from above the right circle that got through several Florida defenders and past Luongo.

Crosby is tied with Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead in goals.

“With us, we knew that they were going to be motivated,” Crosby said. “They’ve played a lot of close games lately, a lot of overtime games. When you get a new coach, everybody is trying to prove themselves. I think we expected a pretty tough game. It was just nice to get that kind of start.”

The Penguins extended their lead to 2-0 on Sheary’s tally. The initial shot by Sheary missed the net, but the puck came off the end boards and into the crease and was inadvertently kicked across the goal line by Luongo at 4:51. Crosby had an assist on the goal.

“(Crosby) is always the guy that takes the lead,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “His line gets us a couple goals early on and gets us the lead and speaks volumes for the leadership he displays night in and night out.”

Pittsburgh stretched the score to 3-0 when Scott Wilson‘s shot from the right circle deflected off Kuhnhackl and into the net at 7:34. The Panthers unsuccessfully challenged the goal, claiming Kuhnhackl interfered with Luongo.

The Panthers closed to 3-1 on Jagr’s power-play goal. Aleksander Barkov passed from below the right circle to Jagr in the slot, and his one-timer beat Murray at 6:17 of the second.

Cullen gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead at 5:48 of the third when he grabbed a rebound in front and put the puck between the pads of Luongo.

Hagelin added an empty-net goal with 32.9 seconds left to make the score 5-1.

Notes: The Penguins have gone 6-0-2 in their past eight games against the Panthers. … The Penguins sent LW Jake Guentzel and D Derrick Pouliot to AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Jagr has 1,882 points, putting him six behind Mark Messier for second place on the career list. … Panthers C Jonathan Marchessault missed his third game with a lower-body injury. … Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield attended the game.

UP NEXT:

Penguins: Visit Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

Panthers: Host Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.

Auston Matthews’ 33rd goal includes a dash of comedy (Video)

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This wouldn’t have been worth a chuckle if not for the correction. (Well, maybe a chuckle at Auston Matthews‘ expense.)

On the 33rd goal of his brilliant rookie season, Auston Matthews made it 2-0 for Toronto on the power play. Crusty “act like you’ve been there” types might grumble that he actually celebrated before a goal really happened, only to tap it in for real the second time around. The rest of us, again, get a mild chuckle.

William Nylander‘s pass was nothing to laugh at, however. That one just gets a big thumbs up.

Hnnngmgghh indeed.

That goal could end up being key as the Blue Jackets quickly scored to start the second period, shrinking Toronto’s lead to 2-1 on Wednesday.

Video: Leafs’ Carrick delivers thunderous hit on Blue Jackets’ Anderson

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Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs have motivation to win their Wednesday game, but the Maple Leafs need it more.

So far, it shows, too.

The Maple Leafs have raced off to a 2-0 lead, with Auston Matthews scoring his 33rd goal of the season. If generating such offense didn’t highlight the urgency, Connor Carrick‘s huge hit on Josh Anderson makes a compelling argument. Witness that big impact in the video above.

There was also another high-impact moment when Nick Foligno went crashing into the boards:

Ouch, Blues consider Paul Stastny out week-to-week

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The St. Louis Blues announced that Paul Stastny is out week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during last night’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, head coach Mike Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious.

There are only about three weeks left in the regular season, so it’s tough to tell if “week-to-week” would mean that the Blues will be without Stastny for any playoff time.

With Stastny out for an expended period of time and other injuries affecting Blues forwards, it sounds like Nail Yakupov gets another chance to prove himself:

Stastny generated 18 goals and 40 points in 66 games so far this season. He has played more of a defensive role this season (46.2 offensive zone start percentage after being closer to 50 earlier in his Blues days) and has been impressive in the dot, winning 53.8 of his faceoffs.

WATCH LIVE: Islanders at Rangers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

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A night after a feisty matcuhup with the Devils, the Rangers host an even bigger rival in the Islanders at Madison Square Garden for Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN.

As nasty as Tuesday’s contest got at times, this one means more.

While the Rangers seem pretty safely seated as the East’s first wild card, the Islanders stand three points behind the Maple Leafs for the final spot in the conference. They’ve seen other bubble teams stumble, so this is their chance to close in on Toronto in what might be a shrinking field of contenders.

Spiting the Islanders might just give the Rangers a little extra life on back-to-back nights … especially since their fans would probably let them have it if they sleepwalk through this one.

It should be a fun, physical and dramatic one on NBCSN. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.