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Penguins continue to win despite setbacks

| Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another sellout crowd jammed antiquated Mellon Arena on Wednesday night, the Penguins' franchise-record 35th of the season and 48th consecutive.

Still, those loyal followers can't tell some of the players without a scorecard or, this being hockey, their trusty copy of "iceTIME: The Official Game Program of the Pittsburgh Penguins."

And even "iceTIME" is having a hard time keeping up.

Ryan Stone and Conner James were in uniform against the Sabres but were excluded from printed recognition.

That's the way it's been going of late for the Penguins.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Sidney Crosby was playing, but Petr Sykora wasn't.

As of yesterday afternoon, Crosby was out, but Sykora was back in.

If this keeps up, the Pens may have to ascertain whether Phil Bourque has any eligibility remaining.

In the meantime, they came up with a line of Jeff Taffe, Jarkko Ruutu and James.

Also available, if needed, was a threesome of Stone, Christopher Minard and Georges Laraque.

They didn't get a great deal of ice time together, seeing as how Minard never left the bench in the first 20 minutes, and Laraque earned a five-minute major and a game-misconduct penalty for elbowing 2:34 into the second.

The Pens won anyway, 7-3.

In the process, they extended their record around Crosby's bouts with a high ankle sprain to an increasingly inexplicable 12-6-4.

The Penguins didn't have Marian Hossa again, either.

But who needs Hossa -- or Crosby, for that matter -- when you have Tyler Kennedy scoring on a breakaway?

Who needs star-power when you have Taffe deftly deflecting in a shot from the point?

Who needs name recognition when Minard, eventually, scores his first career goal with the help of Stone's first career point?

Taffe's goal, his fifth, was scored nine seconds after the Buffalo power play that was generated by the Laraque major died a premature death thanks to a hooking penalty on Maxim Afinogenov.

Afinogenov had no choice but to haul down Jordan Staal. Such was the extent of the Penguins' domination of the first 3:52 of the 4-on-5 situation.

The Penguins were swarming the net while killing the penalty with such fervor that Hal Gill almost scored, twice.

And so it goes.

Ty Conklin was back in the nets for this one, leading the Pens onto the ice while leading the NHL in save percentage (.928) and with a higher winning percentage (.607) than any of the top 10-winningest goalies in the league this season.

He surrendered three third-period goals, which moved coach Michel Therrien no closer to publicly anointing a No. 1 goalie for the playoffs, which fits right in with the Penguins' figure-it-out-as-they-go-along theme to the season.

The Flyers are in town Sunday.

Someone will start, someone will back up and 18 bodies, presumably, will fill out the remaining 18 sweaters.

The Penguins will take it from there.

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