Red Wings suffer fourth straight road loss to Penguins 6-3

PITTSBURGH (AP) — With Evgeni Malkin’s lower-body injury lingering longer than expected and his team’s offense suddenly sputtering, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan decided to pair Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel on Thursday night against Detroit hoping to find a spark.

The results were immediate. And they weren’t limited to the top line.

Kessel scored twice, Crosby had a goal and an assist and the Penguins received contributions from all over while racing by the Red Wings 6-3.

"Obviously, (Crosby) is going really good right now," Kessel said. "He’s carrying our team right now and I just try to hop on that."

Kessel wasn’t the only one. A dozen Penguins picked up at least one point. Matt Cullen added a goal and an assist, Ben Lovejoy scored his first goal since November and Scott Wilson got the first goal of his career for Pittsburgh, which never trailed while gaining valuable ground in the jumbled Eastern Conference playoff race.

"I think that we’re playing a smart brand of hockey," Lovejoy said. "We’re being smart with the puck going through the neutral zone and because of that, when the skill plays are there, we’re taking advantage, and when they’re not, we’re making the soft play behind the defenseman and making them turn and it’s a really hard brand to play against."

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots and the Penguin improved to 7-1 in their last eight home games. Pittsburgh is 9-1-2 in its last 12 games overall.

Rookie Dylan Larkin boosted his team-leading goal total to 19 for Detroit. Tomas Jurco and Henrik Zetterberg also scored for the Red Wings, who struggled defensively for a third straight game. Petr Mrazek made 27 saves, but Detroit has given up 11 goals combined in his last two starts.

"It just happens," Mrazek said. "Sometimes shots go in. You have to find a way to stop those pucks and there were some lucky bounces. … We just need to battle hard and get a win in the next game."

Pittsburgh’s offensive surge that started with a comeback win in Detroit on New Year’s Eve had cooled recently without Malkin, who hasn’t played since Feb. 2. The Penguins managed just two goals in their previous three games coming in, even with Crosby logging heavy minutes. Kessel and Crosby played together briefly earlier in the year. Sullivan reunited them for the first time since he took over for Mike Johnston in mid-December. The two stars eventually got it going, but only after their more unheralded teammates gave the Penguins some early momentum.

Lovejoy’s innocent flip toward the Detroit goal deflected off Red Wings’ forward Darren Helm and past Mrazek 9:56 into the game for Lovejoy’s first score in 34 games. Jurco responded with a wrister from between the circles to tie it before a scramble in front of the net ended with Cullen pushing the puck by Mrazek late in the period.

The 19-year-old Larkin evened it 2:19 into the second by racing in to poke a rebound by Fleury. The tie lasted just 24 seconds as Crosby drew three Red Wings to him and slipped a pass to Kessel. Fleury preserved the lead midway through the period during a spectacular sequence in which he made three sprawling saves, the last with his stick on the goal line as Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader pushed the goaltender into the net.

Wilson, one of a handful of minor league forwards getting serious playing time with Pittsburgh because of injuries to regulars, made the first goal of his 13-game career memorable. Conor Sheary did most of the hard work, digging the puck out from behind the Detroit net, going to the corner to retrieve it and sending a pass from one knee to Wilson in the left circle. Wilson slammed the pass by Mrazek 16:46 into the second.

"I feel like it’s been awhile but I’ve been close and I think our whole line has been close to a couple goals the last 5-10 games," Wilson said. "To be able to pitch in tonight means a lot."

Kessel put in his own rebound 6:26 into the third for his fourth multigoal game of the season and gave the Penguins plenty of breathing room to withstand Zetterberg’s slick backhand by Fleury with 8:47 left before Crosby’s empty-netter finished off Detroit.

NOTES: Both teams went 0 for 1 on the power play. The Penguins have killed 14 straight penalties. … Detroit D Jonathan Ericsson missed his eighth consecutive game with a lower-body injury. D Jakub Lindl and F Teemu Pulkkinen were also scratched. … The Penguins host Tampa Bay on Saturday. … The Red Wings continue their four-game road trip on Saturday at Ottawa.