PITTSBURGH – When the NHL’s reigning Most Valuable Player is out with an injury, it’s nice to have Sidney Crosby around as a fallback option.
Crosby scored two goals and set up Beau Bennett’s first in the NHL as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 before 18,632 at Consol Energy Center Sunday night.
The Penguins played without center Evgeni Malkin, who was sidelined with a concussion after slamming into the boards during Friday’s game against Florida.
“He suffered some short-term memory loss,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s had no other symptoms, he’s feeling fine, and his memory is returning. He will not be starting with us on the trip.”
The Penguins begin a stretch of three straight road games Tuesday in Florida.
“He’s feeling pretty good right now,” Bylsma said. “As we go forward the next few days, we’ll follow standard protocol (for evaluating concussions).”
With Malkin out, Bylsma juggled his lines, then made further changes during the night to address the game situations. He said he’ll continue to improvise as long as Malkin is out.
The Penguins have won 10 of their last 14 games, with two of the losses coming against New Jersey in a home-and-home series Feb. 9 and 10.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has won five consecutive games and eight of his last nine starts.
The Penguins wrapped up a 2-1 homestand by jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, then relying on Fleury to protect a one-goal lead in the third until Matt Cooke scored into the empty net.
After falling behind 3-0, the Lightning changed their goaltender and their attitude at the start of the second period.
Mathieu Garon replaced Anders Lindback in the nets, and Tampa Bay picked up the energy level after the first intermission.
Eric Brewer got Tampa Bay on the scoreboard at 1:37 when the puck deflected in off Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik’s body.
The Lightning took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play at 3:14. Steven Stamkos, who had managed just one goal in his previous seven games against the Penguins, was able to slide to the left circle and overpower Fleury with a shot. That brought the Lightning within a goal at 3-2, but Tampa Bay could never get closer.
Bennett’s goal gave the Penguins a 4-2 lead.
Tampa Bay got back within one at 3:15 of the third. A puck caromed off Penguins center Joe Vitale’s skate, creating an opportunity for Cory Conacher to get off a quick shot from the right side.
But that was the only shot of the Lightning’s 10 in the third period that Fleury failed to stop. He thwarted breakaway chances by Nate Thompson and Richard Panik in the period.
Bennett, playing his fifth NHL game, scored during a Penguins’ 5-on-3 at 12:20. Kris Letang made a good play to keep the puck in the zone, and Bennett whipped in Crosby’s pass from the left circle.
“(Letang) made an unbelievable play to get that puck,” Crosby said. “Beau knows where to go. He’s a pretty gifted player. He has a lot of talent. He found the open lane there.”
The video board cameras caught Bennett with a big smile on his face after he returned to the bench.
“It feels unbelievable,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t picking any corners or anything. I just wanted to get it on net, and it went in.”
Crosby scored twice on the Penguins’ first four shots. The first one was a typical Crosby play, the second was something of a fluke.
Crosby got the first goal at 1:16, beating Lindback high on the short side after Chris Kunitz got a neutral zone turnover. Crosby was credited with his second goal at 7:15 when he was the last Pittsburgh player to touch the puck that Lindback wound up kicking into his own net.
“I just felt it hit my heel, then I think it hit three guys after that,” a smiling Crosby said. “I’ll take it. Sometimes that’s what you need.”
The Penguins built the lead to 3-0 at 19:26 when Paul Martin rifled in Matt Cooke’s rebound from 15 feet.
Martin now has points in 10 of the last 11 games.
The Penguins have power play goals in 11 straight games. …Vitale returned to the lineup with plenty of energy. He contributed two hits, a fight with Adam Hall and an 8-1 night on faceoffs. …Kunitz and Tanner Glass each had four hits. Orpik blocked four shots. …Forward Zack Boychuck and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo were healthy scratches.