Final Score: Pittsburgh 5, Minnesota 2
Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Olli Maatta scored a key short-handed goal on a penalty shot and collected one assist, helping the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins post a 5-2 victory over the visiting Minnesota Wild.
Chris Kunitz had two goals for the Penguins, who notched their season-high sixth consecutive win and ninth in a row at CONSOL Energy Center, the NHL's longest home winning streak this season.
Jeff Zatkoff made 24 saves in his sixth straight win.
Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley scored for Minnesota, which played its first game since placing starting goaltender Josh Harding on injured reserve. Harding will miss some time in order to make an adjustment to his medication for multiple sclerosis.
Niklas Backstrom surrendered five goals on 36 shots.
"I think my last game was pretty good and today I could have been better," Backstrom said. "If you play a good game or bad game, you want to be better next time. You try to learn from every game."
Maatta watched from the penalty box as Minnesota, down 4-2 in the third period, went to work on a prolonged two-man advantage. There was a handful of chances, but the Wild failed to produce on the 5-on-3.
After exiting the box, the 19-year-old Pittsburgh defenseman was hooked by Jonas Brodin on a breakaway. Maatta came in wide from the right side and snapped a wrister that trickled across the goal line at the 7:54 mark.
"I've tried that move in practice a few times. It's the only move I have," Maatta said. "I thought (Backstrom) got it at first. Then I saw it go in so I was pretty excited."
Kunitz scored 49 seconds into the contest, then the Penguins pumped home three more goals in the second period.
Backstrom couldn't handle Maatta's shot, triggering a scramble around the crease that saw Kunitz poke the puck in.
Pittsburgh went up 2-0 at 1:54 of the second, with a shot by Maatta again factoring in the tally. His bid from the left point didn't reach the net, but Brandon Sutter jumped on the loose puck and beat Backstrom from the faceoff circle.
Matt Niskanen's one-timer from the point on a power play rang off the crossbar near the top left corner and dropped into the net to make it 3-0 at 3:33.
The Penguins led 4-0 when Kunitz beat his man to the front of the net and elevated a sublime, no-look pass by Sidney Crosby from the left corner over Backstrom at 10:43.
Pominville directed a Nino Niederreiter feed as he went down the slot over Zatkoff's glove 37 seconds later.
Heatley jammed in a rebound at the right post at 3:13 of the third.
Crosby ran his point streak to a season-best nine games. The Pittsburgh captain has six goals and nine assists over that span ... Penguins forward James Neal returned to the lineup after serving a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston's Brad Marchand on Dec. 7 ... The Wild had won six straight in Pittsburgh after losing their first-ever trip to the Steel City in February of 2001.
12/19 23:41:40 ET
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