Malkin, Penguins rally for victory at home over Lightning
Evgeni Malkin refused to leave the ice for the final 1:45 of the Penguins' 4-2 victory against Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center on Sunday, the prospect of an empty-net, hat trick goal too inviting.
He rang a shot off the post with one second remaining, proof that his game isn't perfect.
But it is close.
Malkin scored two more goals, as the Penguins rebounded from their second two-goal deficit of the weekend to win their second straight game. They have moved into a tie with Philadelphia for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
While the playoff race is tight, Malkin has separated himself as the favorite for the Art Ross Trophy (scoring title) and the Hart Trophy (MVP award). He leads the league with 69 points.
"It's to the point where I pretty much find myself laughing about two times a game because of the things he's doing on the ice," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "So spectacular, so dangerous. He's feeling it right now."
The whole top line is feeling it.
Left wing Chris Kunitz contributed a goal and two primary assists, and right wing James Neal tallied three assists while narrowly missing his 30th goal of the season on two occasions in the third period.
"When you have the puck," Niskanen said, "you just want to get it to those guys as quickly as you can."
Down 2-0 following early Steve Downie goals, the Penguins started getting the puck to Malkin, and good things started to happen.
While on the power play, Malkin received a pass from defenseman Kris Letang and buried a one-timer past goalie Mathieu Garon.
Malkin's shot not only cut the deficit in half but also effectively zapped any pizazz in the Lightning attack. Both teams played the day before, but it was Tampa Bay that looked weary most of the evening.
Following Malkin's goal, the Penguins enjoyed a lopsided advantage in zone time and eventually put the contest away. Kunitz, Malkin and Letang scored in the second period.
"I thought our second period was perhaps our best of playing Pittsburgh Penguin ice hockey," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We tilted the ice. We played with a lot of speed. When it did come in, it went right back out. That's the pace we need to play. It was extremely evident in that period."
Kunitz's goal evened the game 56 seconds into the second period. And while Malkin didn't receive a point, the play provided an illustration of his current dominance.
Malkin, who did not have the puck at any point in the play, skated down the right-wing boards as Kunitz carried the puck through the center of the ice. Instead of challenging the puck carrier, two Tampa Bay players chose to shadow Malkin.
Kunitz, instead of forcing the puck to Malkin, skated unmolested toward Garon and buried a shot past him.
"(He) opens up the ice for everybody else," Kunitz said. "He's dominating. Every time he's on the ice, it feels like he's got a chance to score or set up a play."
Goalie Brent Johnson allowed two goals on the first shots he faced — one goal came from a deflected shot, the other was a tap-in — but, along with his team, rebounded to get the win.
"We didn't get down ourselves after getting down early," Johnson said. "We had to battle uphill, but these guys never stopped. We had our foot on the gas the whole time."
It doesn't hurt that Malkin is the guy driving.
"(Malkin) is putting up unbelievable efforts," Bylsma said.
The Penguins can overlook his shift that lasted 115 seconds to finish the game.
"I don't know if that's usually how you play it when the other team has its goalie pulled," Niskanen said. "But it was entertaining to watch."
Lightning, 1-0 (9:58): RW Steve Downie pulled up at the top of the left circle and fired a shot that deflected off D Paul Martin's stick and underneath G Brent Johnson's left arm.
Lightning, 2-0 (10:09): With D Kris Letang out of the play, LW Teddy Purcell snuck a pass around D Brooks Orpik to Downie, who scored into an empty net.
Penguins, 2-1 (16:15): Letang skated into the center of the ice, drawing defenders, before finding C Evgeni Malkin at the top of the right circle. Malkin launched a one-timer just under the crossbar and past G Mathieu Garon.
Penguins, 2-2 (0:56): Two Tampa Bay players drifted to Malkin's side of the ice, allowing LW Chris Kunitz to skate through the center of the ice and bury a shot past Garon.
Penguins, 3-2 (4:28): Kunitz skated down the left wing and floated a pass to Letang, who fired a wrist shot off Garon's glove and in.
Penguins, 4-2 (10:54): Kunitz skated down the right side of the ice on a two-on-one and found a wide open Malkin, who directed the pass into an empty net.