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MINNESOTA SPORTS ROUNDUP: Penguins easily defeat Wild 5-2

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The Penguins scored four goals in the first and second periods on their way to a 5-2 win over the Wild last night in Pittsburgh. Five different Pittsburgh players scored including former Minnesota-Duluth standout Matt Niskanen of Virginia, Minnesota, who also had an assist. Olli Maatta scored a goal and added two assists. The Pens have won six straight and are 26-10-and-1. Jeff Zatkoff denied 24 of the 26 shots he faced in the victory. Jason Pominville and Dany Heatley scored for Minnesota. Niklas Backstrom totaled 31 saves as the Wild dropped to 20-12-and-5. Backstrom was filling in for Josh Harding, who was placed on the Injured List. Minnesota is next at New York to skate against the Rangers on Sunday.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have lost star guard Kobe Bryant to another injury. Bryant is expected to miss six weeks with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. The Lakers are hosting the Timberwolves tonight in Los Angeles. L-A head coach Mike D'Antoni (dan-TOH-nee) says they'll just have to make do without him. Bryant was injured in Tuesday's win at Memphis. He scored 21 points in 33 minutes of action. It was just his sixth game of the season. Bryant made his season debut December 8th after sitting out while recovering from a torn Achilles suffered late last season. The Lakers are 12-and-13 on the season.

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Timberwolves small forward Chase Budinger practiced for the first time this season yesterday, going through some drills with his teammates and on his own. He is recovering from knee surgery that has kept him out for the entire season so far. He told reporters after the workout yesterday that the knee feels okay and that other parts of his body are sore. Budinger says it is too early to determine a target date for his return to game action.

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 The Minnesota Golden Gopher men's basketball team hosts the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks tonight at Williams Arena. The Gophers have won four in-a-row after their 75-59 win over South Dakota State on December 10th. Minnesota sits at 9-and-2 on the season. Nebraska-Omaha is 8-and-3. Tipoff tonight is 8 p.m. There are tickets still available for the game.

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The University of Minnesota women's basketball team has a Friday matinee on the docket today at Williams Arena. The Golden Gophers are hosting their own three-team, round robin invitational Minnesota plays UCLA today at noon at the Barn. UCLA will then play Auburn tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Williams Arena. And, Minnesota will tip off against Auburn on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Barn. The Gophers are 9-and-2, UCLA is 4-and-5, and Auburn enters the weekend at 8-and-3.

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 Golden Gopher football coach Jerry Kill says he's satisfied with the way his team is handling bowl preparation this week. Minnesota plays Syracuse next Friday in the Texas Bowl in Houston. The Gophers leave for Texas tomorrow. In the meantime, they are working out indoors at the on-campus football facility. Kill says they are not only preparing for Syracuse and slowly implementing strategic parts of the gameplan, but they are also focusing on getting practice time for the younger players to help them develop during the bowl training period. The Texas Bowl features the 8-and-4 Gophers against 6-and-6 Syracuse. The game kicks off at 5 p.m. one week from tonight.

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The Minnesota Vikings will try to play the role of playoff spoiler the final two weeks of the season. The Vikes visit playoff-contending Cincinnati this weekend. The Bengals will try to take another step toward the postseason after losing 30-20 last week at Pittsburgh. Cincy holds a one-game lead on Baltimore atop the AFC North. Cincinnati is 9-and-5 and can clinch the division with a win this week and a Ravens' loss or tie against New England. The Bengals are a perfect 6-and-0 at home. The Vikings are still winless on the road at 0-6-and-1, although they did beat the Steelers in London as the home team. Minnesota put up a season-high 48 points in beating the Eagles last week to improve to 4-9-and-1 overall. Kickoff on Sunday is set for noon.

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When the Vikings plays at the Bengals on Sunday, it will mark the 12th time the two NFL teams will have played against each other. Minnesota leads the all-time series with six wins and five losses. The last time these two clubs have played against each other is 2009, which was a 30-20 win by the Vikings at the Metrodome. The Bengals won the last contest played in Ohio, with a 37-8 win over Minnesota in 2005. The Vikes are 5-and-0 all-time against Cincy in games played in the Twin Cities. The Bengals have won five of the six games contested in Cincinnati. The lone Minnesota win in Cincinnati came in 1992 when the Purple won 42-7.

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