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Petr Sykora's two goals lead struggling Penguins past Thrashers 3-1

PITTSBURGH - Evgeni Malkin set up all the goals, Petr Sykora and Sidney Crosby scored them. Marc-Andre Fleury made a series of important saves in the third period. Ruslan Fedotenko didn't score, but unexpectedly set the tone with a one-punch fight.

For one night, the Pittsburgh Penguins looked like the talented team that went to the Stanley Cup finals last season.

Sykora ended Pittsburgh's seven-game drought without a power-play goal while scoring twice and Malkin came out of a slump with three assists, leading the Penguins to a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night.

The Penguins, outscored 10-1 in their previous two games, also got Crosby's first power-play goal in 26 games while ending a five-game losing streak. They also had dropped five in a row at home, getting outscored 23-8 during a streak that included embarrassing losses of 7-3 to Toronto and 6-1 to Florida.

"The win feels good - it's nicer the next morning to wake up and come to the rink," Sykora said. "Everybody goes through this, but the sooner you stop it, the better chance you have to come back from it. I think we made a good first step."

The Thrashers, last in the Eastern Conference, didn't show much life outside of a couple of skirmishes involving Colby Armstrong until they forced Fleury to make 13 saves in the final period. The Thrashers lost their sixth in seven games.

Pittsburgh's 0-for-33 power-play slump, its longest since an eight-game streak in December 2003, ended late in the first period when Sykora redirected Ryan Whitney's pass from the right point. Whitney showed the Penguins' relief by dropping his head back and looking upward.

"It was a matter of time, but it was getting a little frustrating," said Whitney, who assisted on both power-play scores.

Sykora made it 2-0 at 12:43 of the second. Malkin controlled the puck after winning a faceoff and carried it to the net, where Sykora put a backhander past Kari Lehtonen for his 15th goal.

Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer with 63 points but held without a goal for a career-long nine games, appeared to score slightly less than three minutes later with a power-play slapshot from the right point. But Crosby's stick ticked the puck as it flew into the net for his 16th goal - and only the 11th by Pittsburgh during that time. Crosby was held to one goal in his previous seven games.

The Penguins, two games away from winning the Stanley Cup last spring, are 20-17-4 at the midpoint of their season after having only two full months off since August 2007.

"These things are going to happen, especially after playing so late last year," Sykora said of the slump. "I think the wear on the body is a little different from the guys who didn't make the playoffs."

Atlanta is 13-23-5 halfway through, prompting coach John Anderson to say, "There are no words to describe the disappointment. We have to pick ourselves up every day and keep pushing. We can't feel sorry for ourselves, because nobody else will."

Ilya Kovalchuk said Atlanta lacks consistent effort.

"That's our major problem right now. We don't have enough talent in this locker room to play one game easy and one game hard, you know?" he said.

Fedotenko gave his slumping team a lift a night after the Penguins lost 4-0 to the Rangers by dropping former teammate Armstrong with a single punch only 1:27 into the game. But even this didn't quite work out - Fedotenko injured his hand on the punch and did not return.

"That sparked us a little bit, that was a pretty quick one," Crosby said. "Definitely, an emotional start like that helps the team."

Atlanta didn't score on three shots during a four-minute power play in the first created by Crosby's double-minor high sticking penalty, and failed to get to Fleury until Kovalchuk scored his 14th on a power play with 5:40 remaining. Fleury made 27 saves, with nearly all the difficult stops coming in the third.

"He bailed us out a lot of times," Whitney said.

Notes: Malkin had two assists in his previous seven. ... Crosby ended a three-game streak without a point, matching the longest of his four-season career. ... Pittsburgh had been 8-13-2 since starting the season 11-4-2. ... Lehtonen previously was 6-1-2 against Pittsburgh. ... Penguins F Pascal Dupuis also left with an undisclosed injury.


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