Malkin, Fleury pace Penguins in Eastern Conference showdown win over Rangers
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, likely the two leading candidates for NHL MVP, found themselves in a showdown Tuesday during the second period of a scoreless game.
Malkin beat Lundqvist on a breakaway, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury outplayed the Rangers' star, as the Penguins emerged with a 2-0 victory at Consol Energy Center. Fleury's shutout is the 22nd of his career, tying Tom Barrasso for most in franchise history.
The game's most memorable moment occurred 1:05 into the second period.
Malkin was aware of Lundqvist's reputation as perhaps the best goalie against breakaways. He just didn't care.
"Yes, he's good," Malkin said. "But I'm pretty good too, no?"
Malkin managed to sneak behind the Rangers' defense — the Penguins controlled the opening 20 minutes, but neither team mustered much offense — and received a slick pass from defenseman Kris Letang.
The league's leading scorer found himself on a breakaway from the left-wing boards at the blue line.
"I had good speed," Malkin said. "I wanted to get it high."
These days, Malkin does what he wants. He waited out Lundqvist and beat him with a high backhand shot.
"I tried to be patient," Lundqvist said. "He just kept dragging and dragging and dragging, and I didn't have enough push when I went down."
The Rangers acknowledged before the game that shutting down Malkin was a key to stopping the Penguins.
Asked why his old team has been playing so well without center Sidney Crosby, former Penguins left wing Mike Rupp was quick with a reply.
"Geno — 71 is just playing unbelievable hockey for them right now," Rupp said.
Lundqvist said he has been impressed by Malkin's recent scoring binge.
"It's always a challenge to face this team, especially because of him," Lundqvist said. "He's one of the best in the league, if not the best. He's very skilled, and a lot of nights he's the difference for them."
The goal ignited the Consol Energy Center crowd and gave the Penguins a lead they would never relinquish.
Lundqvist's reputation as one of the league's premier goalies and perhaps the best against breakaways wasn't lost on the Penguins. But they realize Malkin is playing at a different level than any time in his career, and that even breakaways — for so long his nemesis — are seemingly coming easy.
"I like our chances when he has the puck," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said.
Malkin didn't play a perfect game, committing the occasional turnover in an otherwise impressive two-point performance. However, the goaltending of Fleury and an overall strong defensive performance helped the Penguins blank the Rangers.
"I don't get too many shutouts," Fleury said. "This one feels nice."
The Penguins' other goal came on a power play from Steve Sullivan, who naturally was set up by Malkin.
Malkin leads the NHL with 73 points.
The Penguins played perhaps their tightest defensive game of the year and outshot the Rangers, 31-27. They remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference because Philadelphia and New Jersey won.
Still, such a victory against the conference's leading team left the Penguins in a good mood.
"We wanted to make a statement," coach Dan Bylsma said.
Apparently, Malkin did, too.
Penguins, 1-0 (1:05): Evgeni Malkin finished a breakaway by flipping a backhand shot over Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist. A pass by Kris Letang off the boards had sprung Malkin free.
Penguins, 2-0 (11:14) PPG: Steve Sullivan blasted a slapshot past Lundqvist from just inside the blue line.