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Neal's hat trick carries Pens past Jackets

Columbus, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - James Neal recorded his fourth career hat- trick along with two assists to help lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz each registered a goal and two assists for the Penguins, who have won nine of their last 10 contests. Jeff Zatkoff made 25 stops in the win.

"We generated enough chances and I'm glad we found the back of the net," said Crosby.

Brandon Dubinsky, Corey Tropp and Nikita Nikitin lit the lamp for the Blue Jackets, who had a three-game win streak snapped. Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves.

Crosby broke the tie at the 10:51 mark in the third. He and Kunitz had a give right in front of the net where McElhinney made the initial save that dropped in front of him, but Mark Letestu collided into his goalie and the puck trickled between McElhinney's legs into the net for a 3-2 edge.

Kunitz put Pittsburgh up two a little more than two minutes later with a power-play blast from the right dot. Neal made it 5-2 at the 17:33 mark with a goal in traffic.

"They scored on 50 percent of their power-play and that just can't happen," said Dubinsky.

Nikitin added a goal with 1:29 left that accounted for the final margin.

Dubinsky started the scoring when he gathered the puck after a Pens turnover in the left circle, switched to his backhand and slid it through Zatkoff's pads to take the lead 3:59 in. The Pens answered quickly, less than a minute later. Just 28 seconds into a power play, Neal's wrister from the high slot tied it up.

Neal scored his second of the game at 8:34 in the second after he batted the puck out of the air, Crosby settled it and fed Neal in the slot, and his snap shot beat McElhinney glove side.

About five minutes later, Tropp dangled in the slot to get through Olli Maatta's legs, then beat Zatkoff in tight to make it 2-2.

Game Notes

The Penguins are 4-0 this season against Columbus ... Pittsburgh is 28-4-1 this season when Crosby records a point ... Columbus sent Ryan Craig to AHL Springfield prior to the game ... Pens defensemen Rob Scuderi (broken ankle) returned after 29-game absence ... Pens center Evgeni Malkin missed his seventh game in a row due to a lower-body injury.

12/29 22:55:34 ET

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