Evgeni Malkin scores twice – again – as Penguins topple Rangers
There is little that could lift the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves in the Eastern Conference playoff race faster than a resurgent Evgeni Malkin.
As luck would have it, they just might have one of those on the roster.
Malkin scored two goals for the second straight game, punctuating things with a backhand spin-o-rama that will live on in highlight videos for years, leading the Penguins to a 6-5 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins moved a point ahead of Carolina in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference and into a tie with Columbus for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
“He’s a special player. I don’t expect less than that,” said defenseman Kris Letang, who also scored two goals in the game. “That’s what these guys do for us. That doesn’t surprise us anymore. They’re legends already.”
With the score tied 3-3 in the waning moments of the second period, Sidney Crosby attempted to lift the stick of Neal Pionk but instead caught the Rangers defenseman with a stick in the face. A double-minor was assessed.
It was a clear and obvious pivot point in the game.
“You get a big five-on-three kill or a four-minute or five-minute penalty kill, the momentum seems to go towards that team,” winger Zach Aston-Reese said. “The killers knew that going in. Especially when a guy like Sid, who competes every night for us, takes a penalty, you want to do everything you can to return the favor for him.”
The Penguins killed the penalty flawlessly, then proceeded to score three times in the next seven minutes.
Less than a minute after leaving the penalty box, Crosby skated into the offensive zone, pulled up and waited for a trailer. He found one in Letang, who danced around Filip Chytil and scored on a shot past a Jake Guentzel screen.
“You knew in a 3-3 game and they have a four-minute power play, it can turn the game around,” Letang said. “But if we kill it, I think the momentum goes back on our side. I think that’s what happened.”
Shortly after Letang scored, Malkin — with a newly created line featuring Aston-Reese and Phil Kessel on his wings — took over.
First, Aston-Reese went barreling into two Rangers defenders in the right-wing corner to loosen up a puck on the forecheck. Kessel centered from behind the net to Malkin at the right post for a goal.
On the line’s next shift, Aston-Reese barged up the left wing and left a pass for Malkin in the faceoff circle. He scored on a spectacular, spinning backhander inside the far post to give the Penguins a 6-3 lead.
“When NHL Network is playing top 100 goals of the season, I’ll be in the highlight reel now,” Aston-Reese said.
Malkin had three goals in his previous 18 games heading into this weekend.
“I’ve said on a number of occasions that he’s one of those guys that can change the outcome of a game in a few shifts and you could see it in the third period tonight, the kind of impact that he can have,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
The third-period surge papered over some flaws the Penguins showed in the game. Most notably, they played some haphazard hockey after taking a 3-1 lead in the second period, giving up goals to Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Strome in a four-minute stretch.
They also leaked in two goals in the final six minutes to make the finish unnecessarily tight.
“We’ve just got to keep playing the right way,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “If we do that, we’ll be good because we all believe in this room, and we all know the talent in this room.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .