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By KEVIN CHROUST
(AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning have won the first two on a three-game homestand and are figuring out ways to earn goals without leading scorer Steven Stamkos.
Finishing the homestand with a perfect record Friday will require them to figure out the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins have won seven straight against the Lightning dating to Jan. 15, 2012, including a 5-4 victory in Tampa Bay on Oct. 12 to begin the season’s three-game series. Pittsburgh has 38 goals in those seven games with a minimum of four in each.
The Lightning (16-8-1), however, have been scoring plenty of their own lately. After Wednesday’s 4-2 win over Philadelphia, they’ve won consecutive games by a combined score of 9-2.
Defenseman Victor Hedman had two goals and an assist to become the fourth different player with a multi-goal game for the Lightning since Stamkos went down with a broken leg on Nov. 11.
“When you’re in a flow, it seems like the puck goes in the net every time,” Hedman told the team’s official website. “I need to keep believing in myself and playing hockey and things are going to come.”
Hedman has a career-high six goals in 25 games this season. His points-per-game average has gradually increased in each of his five NHL seasons, up to 0.60 in 2013-14 after posting a career high 0.45 last season.
“He was the best player on the ice, no question,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He had his legs moving today, he had jump, he was engaged and when he’s like that, he puts himself in the upper echelon of defensemen.”
Tampa Bay was one of eight teams to average over 3.00 goals until Stamkos’ injury. The Lightning have averaged a respectable 2.63 since, which is in the top third of the league over that span.
They’ve made good use of that average lately with quality performances on the other end of the ice, having allowed only two regulation goals in their last three games.
Backup goaltender Anders Lindback allowed both of those goals against the Flyers while making 19 saves.
Top starter Ben Bishop has dazzled in his last two, turning away 78 of 79 shots. He shut out the Rangers on Monday and was on the unlucky end of Friday’s 1-0 overtime loss to Anaheim.
With Evgeni Malkin catching fire, the Penguins (16-9-1) once again have two of the NHL’s top point scorers. Sidney Crosby leads the league with 33, while Malkin is just behind with 30 – 12 of which have come in his last six games.
Malkin’s two-goal game in Wednesday’s 6-5 shootout win over Toronto was his first since March 22, 2012.
The Penguins led 1-0, then fell behind 4-1 early in the second. Malkin scored his sixth of the year in the third to send it to overtime.
“Slow start but we need to play whole 60 minutes,” Malkin said. “Not a great game for us but two points, it’s fine.”
Marc-Andre Fleury started in net for the Penguins but was replaced 13 seconds into the second period after allowing the Maple Leafs’ third goal. He’s 0-1-1 in his last three starts with a 4.32 goals-against average and .844 save percentage, though he has won his last five games against Tampa Bay.
Crosby had three goals and an assist for Pittsburgh in the first meeting. He has six goals and three assists in his last three games against the Lightning to go with a six-game point streak in the series.
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