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Penguins keep up pace with win over Blue Jackets

AP

The Pittsburgh Penguins are on a record pace halfway through the season.

Imagine what they might do if they get healthy.

James Neal scored three times and had two assists, and Sidney Crosby added the go-ahead goal and set up two other tallies to lead the Penguins past the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 on Sunday night.

“With the injuries we’ve had, the guys have come in, and the job they’ve done is a big reason why we’ve had a decent first half,” Crosby said after the Penguins improved to 29-11-1. “We were at a point where we started to lose guys and it could have gone either way. But we’ve found a way to survive.”

Not only survive, but flourish.

Their 29 wins eclipsed the previous franchise record for victories through 41 games, snapping a tie with the 1992-93 team which won a franchise-record 56 games and the Stanley Cup.

The Penguins’ 59 points are just one behind that team that was led by Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. The Penguins are on pace for a 58-22-2 record — again just a point behind the club mark of 119 put up by the ’92-93 team.

The Penguins have done it despite losing defensemen Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Paul Martin for extended stretches, along with forwards Pascal Dupuis, Chuck Kobasew and superstar Evgeni Malkin, along with backup goalie Tomas Vokoun.

“The one thing about our team, especially over the last 25 games, we’ve won as a team,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve found ways to win. Different guys have been stepping up.”

Chris Kunitz added his 21st goal and two assists, and Jeff Zatkoff made 25 saves for the Penguins, who have won all four meetings with Columbus this season.

Crosby’s shot, which broke a 2-2 tie midway through the third period, was initially stopped by Curtis McElhinney. But Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin plowed into McElhinney, and the puck ended up over the goal line. It was Crosby’s 22nd goal of the season off a feed from Kunitz on a 2-on-2 rush.

Sabres 2, Capitals 1 (SO)

In Buffalo, Ryan Miller made 49 saves to carry the Sabres to a shootout win over Washington.

Sharks 3, Ducks 1

In San Jose, Bracken Kearns scored his first NHL goal, Logan Couture netted his 100th, and the Sharks broke Anaheim’s 10-game winning streak.

Panthers 4, Canadiens 1

In Sunrise, Florida, Brian Campbell, Aleksander Barkov and Dmitry Kulikov all scored in the Panthers’ win over Montreal.

Blues 3, Stars 2 (OT)

In Dallas, Kevin Shattenkirk scored a power-play goal 4:49 into overtime.

Rangers 4, Lightning 3

In Tampa, Henrik Lundqvist made 37 saves in his first start in four games, and Mats Zuccarello had a goal and two assists.

Islanders 5, Wild 4

In St. Paul, Minnesota, Kyle Okposo scored twice midway through the third period, and the Islanders overcame a three-goal deficit to beat the Wild.

Maple Leafs 5, Hurricanes 2

In Toronto, Phil Kessel scored twice, reaching the 20-goal plateau for the sixth straight season.

Jets 2, Avalanche 1 (OT)

In Denver, Blake Wheeler scored at 4:58 of overtime.

Canucks 2, Flames 0

In Calgary, Jannik Hansen scored the winning goal.