Penguins Beat Panthers 3-2 as Malkin Grasps NHL Scoring Lead

The Pittsburgh Penguins clawed back from a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd period to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 in regulation on Tuesday night, keeping them firmly in the hunt for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference titles.  Evgeni Malkin picked up 2-assists in the game to push him a point ahead of fellow Russian Alexander Ovechkin in the race for the NHL’s scoring title.  Malkin now leads all NHL players with 79-points (34G, 45A), after an amazing February surge in which he has picked up 21-points (7G, 14A) in just 9-games.  In the 14-games since Sidney Crosby was injured, Evgeni Malkin has accumulated 27-points (11G, 16A) and has been the backbone of the team’s offensive production.  The win improves the Penguins’ record to 34-21-5 and a seemingly improbable 8-4-2 with Crosby out of the lineup.  Penguins’ MVP contender Ty Conklin had another very good game in net, advancing his record to 16-4-3;  his 0.932 save percentage leads the league.   

In the 1st period, the Panthers got on the board first with an even strength goal at 16:24 by David Booth, his 18th of the season.  Kamil Kreps and Bryan Allen picked up the assists on the Pathers’ goal.  The Penguins found themselves short-handed 3-times in the 1st as Brooks Orpik (tripping), Colby Armstrong (tripping) and Tyler Kennedy (roughing/cross checking) were called for infractions.  Kennedy’s double-call came on a quick fight with Panthers’ left winger David Booth for which the officials handed out matching roughing penalties.  Kennedy was assessed an additional 2-minutes for a cross check that preceeded the mini-fight.  The Penguins successfully killed off all 3 short-handed situations, but failed to convert on 1 power play chance of their own.  The Panthers outshot the Penguins 12-10 in the period.

In the 2nd, the Penguins inability to score on the power play became that much more costly when they turned over the puck to Brett Mclean at 12:18 and he skated in on Ty Conklin to score an unassisted short-hander to make it 2-0.  Despite being given 4-chances on the power play in the period, the Penguins were just unable to convert.  The Panthers effectively forced the Penguins to dump and chase on the power play, and then beat them to the corners to clear the puck.  The Penguins managed to stay out of the penalty box in the 2nd, and outshot the Panthers 11-7. 

In the 3rd, the Penguins pulled within a goal on a blast by Colby Armstrong that beat Tomas Vokoun with a 34-foot slapshot.  An ever-hungry Evgeni Malkin picked up his 44th assist on the play by feeding Armstrong with another perfect pass.  With just 3:20 left in the game, the Penguins tied it up as Ryan Malone redirected a blast by Ryan Whitney for his 18th goal of the season.  Evgeni Malkin got the other assist on the play that was reviewed to confirm that the puck was not kicked into the goal.  With 1:05 left in the game, Jay Bouwmeester was called for hooking Evgeni Malkin as he skated along the blueline and attempted to take a pass.  The Penguins, determined to take advantage of this man-advantage, finally converted on a power move to the net by Ryan Malone with just 23-seconds left in the game.  Malone carried the puck wide and then pulled up in front of Vokoun while trying to move the puck from his backhand to his forehand.  Although he lost the puck off his backhand, he managed to find it again between Vokoun’s pads and poked it in just as he was bowled into Vokoun by the Panthers’ defense.  Ty Conklin and Sergei Gonchar were credited with the assists.  The goal put a bold punctuation mark on the Penguins come from behind victory.

The Penguins (5th in the East) travel to Montreal on Thursday to take on the Canadiens (4th in the East) in a battle between two top teams in the tight Eastern Conference.  There is plenty of speculation that Sidney Crosby may make his return on Thursday, but there has been no official confirmation of that plan.  Video highlights shown during Tuesday night’s game of Crosby in practice with the team on Monday showed no apparent ill effects of the high ankle sprain.  If not Thursday, it appears that Crosby’s return is fast approaching. 

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