DENVER – Marc-Andre Fleury and the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins made quick work of the Colorado Avalanche.
Fleury stopped 35 shots, Steve Sullivan had a goal and an assist and the Penguins beat the Avalanche 5-1 on Saturday night.
Evgeni Malkin, Arron Asham, Richard Park and Deryk Engelland also scored to help the Penguins stretch their winning streak to a season-high five games.
“It’s huge,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “We’ve learned from the past couple of years if you stumble into the playoffs there’s a carry-over to how you play in the playoffs. There are so many good teams it’s tough to turn the switch on and off, especially these last 20 games as you try to build momentum into the playoffs.”
The Penguins won after losing another player to a concussion. Defenceman Kris Letang was scratched after taking an inadvertent hit to the head from Dallas’ Eric Nystrom on Wednesday night. Captain Sydney Crosby has missed 36 games with neck and concussion-like symptoms this season.
Pittsburgh didn’t need them to beat Colorado for the fourth straight time.
“We’ve got guys on every line who can score,” Asham said. “That’s how you win in the playoffs.”
Asham opened the scoring for Pittsburgh with his third goal of the season. He took a drop pass from Craig Adams, glided to the right circle and beat goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere on the short side with 7:55 left in the first.
Engelland made it 2-0 when he deflected Jordan Staal’s centring pass over Giguere’s right shoulder 1:22 after Asham scored. It was Engelland’s fifth goal.
“Those were big plays in the first for us,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “To get those goals was big.”
Malkin made it 3-0 when he scored his 38th goal on a rebound early in the second period. Park added to Colorado’s misfortune when he stepped out of the penalty box, picked up a loose puck at centre ice and beat Giguere on a breakaway midway through the second frame.
Fleury was trying to break a tie with Tom Barrasso for the franchise record for career shutouts, but Matt Hunwick ended Fleury’s bid for No. 23, scoring off a rebound with 11:02 left.
“That time you start thinking about it a little bit,” Fleury said. “I was a little disappointed not to get the shutout, but we got two points and that’s what matters.”
Sullivan scored an empty-net goal late in the third to complete the rout.
Colorado got scrappy after falling behind. Giguere got into a shoving match with Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke in second, and in the third Steve Downie took exception to Fleury’s stickwork and started a scrum near the Penguins’ net.
“It’s a do-or-die situation every game,” said Giguere, who had 23 saves. “We’re approaching it like it’s a must-win every night. For that, you must be physical, you must get in the other guy’s face. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough tonight.”
The loss was a blow to Colorado’s playoff push. The Avalanche had won four straight to move in contention in the Western Conference, but they now trail eighth-place Dallas by three points.
“This is when you really see who wants to get in the playoffs, who wants to win,” forward Gabriel Landeskog said. “We’ve got a great group of guys in here. We really have a lot of winners in here. We just have to go out and show that, enough talking, we’ve just got to go out and execute.”
Notes: Orpik and Paul Martin had two assists each for Pittsburgh. … Malkin extended his points streak to seven games. … Downie sustained an undisclosed injury midway through the third period and didn’t return. He will not travel with the team to Minnesota for Sunday’s game. … The Avalanche honoured former defenceman Rob Blake before the game. Blake was traded to the Avalanche during their Stanley Cup season of 2000-01 and played four more seasons with Colorado before signing with the Los Angeles Kings in 2006. He retired in 2010 after two seasons with San Jose. … The Penguins are 7-0-2 on the road against Western Conference teams. Their last regulation road loss to a Western Conference team was a 3-2 setback at Anaheim on Nov. 5, 2010.