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Malkin, Crosby stand tall in Penguins' victory over Lightning

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 10:30 p.m.
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin beats Lightning goaltender Andres Lindback for a third period goal at Consol Energy Center Monday, March 4, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin breaks into the Lightning zone during the first period Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his third period goal against the Lightning at Consol Energy Center Monday, March 4, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Lightning's Steven Stamkos hits the puck out of the air for a late goal against Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at Consol Energy Center Monday, March 4, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ (from left) Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin celebrate Malkin’s third-period goal against the Lightning on Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.
Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin will miss the game Tuesday, March 19, against the Washington Capitals.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby corrals the puck in front of the Lightning's Sami Salo during the first period Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Penguins' Deryk Engelland fights with the Lightning's Pierre-Cedric Labrie during the first period Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon makes a second-period save on the Penguins' Chris Kunitz on Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Lightning's Steven Stamkos beats Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for a second-period goal Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Lightning's Steven Stamkos leads a second-period rush against the Penguins on Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
The Lightning's Steven Stamkos leads a second-period rush against the Penguins on Monday, March 4, 2013, at Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma hands out pizza in the student rush line Monday, March 4, 2013, outside Consol Energy Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

Evgeni Malkin returned Monday.

He returned to the Penguins after missing four consecutive games with a concussion, and he flashed the MVP form that carried his club last season during captain Sidney Crosby's absence.

Malkin's breathtaking goal and Crosby's inspired shift in the third period turned around a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and sparked the Penguins' 4-3 victory at Consol Energy Center.

“We try to make sure we produce,” Crosby said. “At a big time like that, I think it was just more a product of the way we played.”

Crosby's 11th goal and assist on left winger Chris Kunitz's opening marker allowed him to keep a two-point lead in the NHL scoring race. Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who scored his 16th and 17th goals, is second with 34 points.

Malkin, one of two current NHL players with multiple scoring titles, is well behind Crosby and Stamkos. Malkin has 23 points (five goals, 18 assists).

Upon returning to Pittsburgh after the NHL lockout, which he spent playing for his hometown Metallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, Malkin said Crosby was probably the best bet to win the scoring title and MVP.

Malkin did not make himself available for comment after this victory over Tampa Bay, though his bullish play spoke volumes.

“He had the puck on his stick what seemed like the whole night,” said Matt Cooke, who resumed playing left wing on a line with Malkin and right winger James Neal.

Malkin finished with five shots and a plus-1 rating.

The Penguins were trailing, 2-1, when he scored in the fifth minute of the third period that center Brandon Sutter said made teammates on the bench “kind of laugh.”

With defenseman Brooks Orpik behind the net in the Penguins' zone following a big hit by Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier, Malkin carried the puck into the other end and, in a sudden burst, split two Tampa Bay players while cutting to his left into the slot, falling then whipping a shot past goalie Anders Lindback.

“I mean, what else are you going to do when a guy scores a goal like that?” Sutter said of the laughing Malkin's tally inspired. “What a goal.”

What a sequence by Crosby about two minutes later.

He stole a puck from Stamkos in the defensive zone, and then finished a rush by hammering home a slick feed from defenseman Kris Letang, who passed across and into the slot while on both knees after circling from behind the net. By that point, Crosby already had produced at least a point in 27 of 37 regular-season games dating to his return from a concussion last season.

He has racked up 17 goals and 59 points over that span.

The Penguins (15-8-0, 30 points) won a second consecutive game and looked a lot better defensively than they did at any point during a three-game road trip during which they allowed 16 goals.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury again played better than his 25 saves suggested.

Neal's empty-netter kept him within striking distance of Stamkos. Neal has 14 goals.

However, the story of this win was the return of Malkin — both to his team and to the form the Penguins will need if they are to contend for the Stanley Cup.

“He looked really good,” Crosby said. “I don't know if he was doing any stick-handling while we were gone, but that looked pretty sharp. When he's going like that, it's pretty tough to stop him.”

So are the Penguins when Malkin and Crosby get going as they did against Tampa Bay.

“That's what we need,” Cooke said. “They're our two offensive powerhouses. They lead the way.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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