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The Pittsburgh Penguins faced questions about their goaltending even before starter Marc-Andre Fleury was injured. Unheralded Ty Conklin is providing all the answers right now.
Conklin tries to lead the Penguins to their season-high fifth straight victory Thursday night when they conclude their season series against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pittsburgh (21-16-2) appeared to be in trouble after learning that Fleury would be sidelined into February after sustaining a high ankle sprain Dec. 6. With no veteran backup available, the starting job was left to Dany Sabourin, who had made 10 NHL starts before this season.
Sabourin went 2-4-0 with a 3.32 goals-against average in six starts before coach Michel Therrien called on Conklin, who was recalled from the minors Dec. 7, to start against Boston on Dec. 20.
Conklin stopped 37 of 41 shots in that game, a 5-4 shootout victory. He has been even better in his last four starts, going 4-0-0 with one shutout and a 1.46 GAA.
Conklin, who has allowed 13 goals in six appearances this season, was outstanding in Pittsburgh's 2-1 shootout victory in the NHL Winter Classic outdoor game Tuesday. He stopped 36 of 37 shots, including all seven in overtime.
"We were pretty discouraged when we lost Fleury," Therrien said. "Certainly, (Conklin's) playing at a level that gives us a chance to win. ... He made some key saves in overtime."
Conklin's goaltending and Sidney Crosby's memorable shootout goal helped the Penguins match their longest win streak of the season.
Crosby assisted on Colby Armstrong's first-period goal for his 53rd point, putting him five behind Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier for the league lead. Crosby has one goal and nine assists during a six-game point streak, but hasn't scored a non-shootout goal in five straight contests.
He has six goals and nine assists during an eight-game point streak against Toronto (16-16-8).
The outdoor victory gave Pittsburgh a sweep of its home-and-home series with the Sabres that started with a 2-0 home win Saturday.
Conklin's strong play has at least temporarily solidified Pittsburgh's goaltending. Fleury, the top overall pick in the 2003 draft, has yet to establish himself as an elite player at the position, and the Pens had little depth behind him before Conklin arrived.
The Maple Leafs are also missing their No. 1 goalie, playing the last four games without Vesa Toskala, who has a groin injury.
Andrew Raycroft went 0-2-1 with a 5.03 GAA in three games as Toskala's replacement, so Scott Clemmensen was given his first start of the season Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
Clemmensen made 30 saves in regulation and overtime, then stopped Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards in the shootout as Toronto ended a three-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory.
"My whole career I've had to fight and work hard to get where I'm at," Clemmensen said. "If I get the start in Pittsburgh that's great. If I don't, I'm going to be happy with the way I played tonight."
Captain Mats Sundin, Jason Blake and Hal Gill scored in regulation for the Leafs, 1-3-2 in their last six road games.
Sundin - the team leader with 44 points - has 13 goals and 18 assists in his last 18 games against Pittsburgh. His 38 goals versus the Penguins are his most against any opponent, while his 79 points are tied for his most.
The Maple Leafs have won two of three meetings this season, including a 5-2 road win Oct. 25. Toronto is 8-2-0 in its last 10 visits to Pittsburgh.