- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

SUNRISE, FLA. (AP) - Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins had a rough night in South Florida. In the first period, Florida defenseman Keith Ballard upended Penguins star Evgeni Malkin with a low hit, prompting Crosby to drop the gloves and fight Ballard.

The desperate Panthers also denied the Penguins a win that would have clinched a playoff spot, while improving their own postseason chances.

Bryan McCabe and Rostislav Olesz each had a goal and an assist in the Panthers’ 4-2 victory Sunday. Ville Peltonen and David Booth also scored, and Jay Bouwmeester had two assists to help the Panthers move into a tie with the New York Rangers for eighth in the Eastern Conference, though the Rangers have the tiebreaker with one more victory.

“After something like that, you’ve got to expect someone’s coming,” Ballard said about tangling with Crosby after what he thought was a clean hit.

Crosby received a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and a major for fighting. He also fought Florida’s Brett McLean during a Jan. 3 game.

“He’s got a physical style to his game,” Crosby said about Ballard. “But (Malkin is) 6-3, he didn’t need to hit him at the knees. I understand if it’s a guy my size and he hits me at the hips; it’s a hip check. But he got pretty low on him.”

Florida, vying for its first playoff berth since 2000, has 89 points with three games remaining. The Rangers lost 1-0 to Boston on Saturday.

“Last year, we were out by this time. You don’t want to be in that situation,” Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “This is what we play for _ the chance to get in the playoffs, then it’s a brand-new season.”

In his return to Florida’s starting lineup, Vokoun stopped 41 shots. Backup Craig Anderson helped lead the Panthers to three wins in their past four games, but coach Pete DeBoer decided to make the switch after a 3-1 loss to Atlanta on Friday night.

Pascal Dupuis and Mark Eaton scored for the Penguins, coming off a 3-2 overtime loss in Carolina on Saturday night. They are sixth in the conference.

“That was our goal, to finally secure a spot there,” Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “Next game.”

Blackhawks 1, Blue Jackets 0, OT

At Columbus, Ohio, Kris Versteeg beat fellow rookie star Steve Mason on a breakaway at 3:10 of overtime to give Chicago the victory.

Versteeg ended it with his 22nd goal of the season moments after Chicago’s Nikolai Khabibulin stopped Kris Russell on a breakaway. Khabibulin made 20 saves for his second shutout of the season. Mason stopped 24 shots.

A day after clinching a playoff spot, the Blackhawks ran their winning streak to three and snapped a season-high five-game road losing streak. Chicago also moved three points ahead of Vancouver for the fourth seed and home ice in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Columbus is sixth, two points ahead of Anaheim.

Sharks 3, Ducks 2

At Anaheim, Calif., Joe Pavelski and Jonathan Cheechoo scored the tying and go-ahead goals on power plays, and San Jose set a franchise record with its 52nd victory.

Jeremy Roenick had his first goal in four months, and backup goalie Brian Boucher stopped 19 shots for the Sharks, three points ahead of Boston for the overall NHL lead.

Petteri Nokelainen scored a short-handed goal for Anaheim, and Corey Perry connected on a power play. Anaheim beat the Sharks 5-2 on Saturday night in San Jose.

Capitals 6, Thrashers 4

At Washington, Tomas Fleischmann had a goal and an assist for his first multipoint game in nearly two months, and the Capitals moved into sole possession of second place in the East.

Alexander Semin, Keith Aucoin, Michael Nylander, Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich also scored for the Capitals, two points ahead of New Jersey. Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 42nd goal for Atlanta, and Colby Armstrong, Jim Slater and Slava Kozlov also scored.

Red Wings 3, Wild 2

At Detroit, Marian Hossa scored with 55 seconds left, and Chris Osgood made 20 saves to help the Red Wings snap a three-game losing streak.

Pavel Datsyuk added a goal and an assist, and Jiri Hudler also scored.

Cal Clutterbuck had a goal and an assist, and Marian Gaborik added a goal for Minnesota _ 10th in the race for the eight Western playoff spots.

Avalanche 4, Canucks 1

At Vancouver, British Columbia, T.J Galiardi scored twice, Peter Budaj made 20 saves, and Colorado snapped an eight-game losing streak.

Milan Hejduk had a goal and two assists, and Ben Guite also scored. Pavol Demitra ended Budaj’s shutout bid with 4:38 left.

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