PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup Monday night, just in time to score a spectacular goal that helped the Pittsburgh Penguins beat Tampa Bay.
Malkin and Sidney Crosby each had a goal and an assist as the Penguins defeated the Lightning 4-3 before 18,656 at Consol Energy Center.
“It’s nice to have him back,” Crosby said.
Malkin had missed four games after sustaining a concussion in a home game against Florida on Feb. 22. He showed no lingering effects of the injury as he played 20:57, had five shots on goal and skated with energy.
“I was a little nervous before the game,” Malkin said. “My teammates support me, and I feel good that we won the game.”
The Penguins rallied from a 2-1 deficit after two periods, the first time they’ve won a game they trailed after two periods. They had been 0-6 in those circumstances.
Malkin got the tying goal at 5:38 of the third, jumping on Eric Brewer’s turnover at the blue line, and driving to the net down the right side. When it appeared that either the diving Brewer or defenseman Matt Carle would stop him, Malkin skated away from Carle, shifted to his forehand and put the puck in the net. Goalie Anders Lindback had no idea what to do.
“Ah, just a lucky goal,” Malkin shrugged. “I go to the net between the defenseman, just move to the left and shoot to the empty net.”
Crosby said, “It didn’t look like there was any way to get through those two guys. But he found a way. You won’t see that happen too often.”
Coach Dan Bylsma said Malkin’s goal and the reaction it got from the crowd led to a surge that lasted five or six minutes and saw the Penguins take the lead.
Crosby broke the tie at 7:29 as he and Kris Letang overwhelmed the Lightning with their speed. Crosby stole the puck in the defensive zone, carried it up the ice, dished it off to Letang, then got open in front of the net and fired Letang’s pass past Lindback’s glove. Crosby made the shot as he was skating away from the net.
“Mine wasn’t quite as nice (as Malkin’s) but they all count,” Crosby said. “(Letang) made a great play. He showed great patience as he came around the net, and I just tried to find an open area. I had a lot of net to look at.”
It appeared the Penguins put the game away with 51.5 seconds left as Malkin generously set up James Neal for an empty net score.
But Steven Stamkos used a baseball swing to bat in a rebound with eight seconds left to draw Tampa Bay within one with his second goal of the game.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, the Lightning scored twice in the second. One goal relied on skill, the other on a fortunate but painful bounce.
The Penguins had some excellent chances turned away by goalie Mathieu Biron in the first minutes of the second period. Biron was injured on one sequence and forced to leave the game. He was replaced by Lindback.
Shortly after the goalie change, the Lightning tied the score. Cory Conacher drew two defenders, leaving defenseman Victor Hedman space to send a post to the right goal post. Stamkos only had to guide the puck into the net at 3:39.
The Lightning took a 2-1 lead at 11:59. Nate Thompson took a shot from 12 feet, the puck hit Brandon Sutter’s stick and bounced up, striking Tom Pyatt in the face, then floating into the net over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove.
Chris Kunitz had the only goal of the first period, which extended his point-scoring streak to six games, a personal best.
Crosby won a battle along the boards against Stamkos, who lost his stick in the process. That allowed Crosby to make a pass to Kunitz, who was in the high slot and one-timed the pass for his 12th goal.
Despite allowing three goals, Fleury had a strong game, stopping Stamkos and Conacher on one sequence.
Byslma said he had no reservations about playing Malkin after seeing the way he handled contact drills during a practice on Monday.
“He had guys shaking their heads at how strong he was,” Bylsma said. “To see him come out and play that way and be confident, I’m not real surprised the way he was battling yesterday.”
Defenseman Brooks Orpik appeared to be shaken up after he was hit by Vincent Lecavalier about five minutes into the third period. Orpik finished the game. … The Penguins sent winger Beau Bennett back to Wilkes-Barre this morning. He had one goal and two assists in his first eight NHL games. … Crosby and Stamkos each had two points, so Crosby maintains a two-point lead (36 to 34) in the NHL scoring race. … Defenseman Paul Martin sat out another game with a lower body injury.