Rookie Dustin Jeffrey had the first of three Pittsburgh goals in a 3:14 span in the second period as the Penguins rallied for a 3-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night despite losing star center Evgeni Malkin to injury.
Malkin returned to the lineup after missing the previous five games due to a left knee injury and a sinus infection -- but he was knocked out of the game during the first shift of the second period with a lower-body injury after a collision with Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers.
In the first 7 minutes without Malkin, the Penguins -- 10-1-0 without him this season -- scored all three of their goals. Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke also scored for Pittsburgh, which has won five in a row and eight of nine.
"In the second half of the first period, we started playing better, and it carried over into the second," Cooke said. "We did well from there."
The recent surge has also come without captain Sidney Crosby, who's missed the last 12 with a concussion. There's no indication when he'll be back. They were also without rookie center Mark Letestu, who will miss at least four weeks with a knee injury.
"You never want to see (Crosby and Malkin) out, but we've played for a good little stretch now without both of those guys," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Everyone's elevated their game a lot."
The Sabres, who hadn't played in 10 days, got early goals by Paul Gaustad and Mike Grier but were unable to hold the lead -- costing themselves a chance to gain on eighth-place Atlanta. The are still 9-4-1 in their last 14 games, but fell to 11th in the east, six points behind the Thrashers.
Malkin appeared to be skating hard throughout the first period -- generating a game-high three shots to that point -- but he was a minus-2 as Pittsburgh trailed 2-0. Twenty-one seconds into the second, Malkin gingerly left the ice after the 6-foot-8 Myers fell awkwardly onto his right leg.
"I didn't go in there looking to hurt him; I just wanted to engage him and it just ended up that it was an awkward way we went in," Myers said.
Jeffrey scored 3:29 later, using his speed to skate down the right wing and putting a shot toward Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller that deflected into the net off Sabres center Tim Connolly's skate.
"I wouldn't think that (Malkin's injury) was a catalyst or an indicator that our team got going," coach Dan Bylsma said. "But we needed to wake up from where we were at in the first."
Kennedy tied it 2:34 later with his second goal in as many games, beating Miller with a wrist shot from the right circle for his ninth of the season. Just 40 seconds after that, Cooke gave Pittsburgh its first lead with his 10th of the season. Jordan Staal stole the puck and fed Cooke in the left slot. Cooke controlled the puck on his forehand and slid it through Andrej Sekera as he turned it over to his backhand, then flipped a shot the puck up into the far portion of the net.
"I think it's a credit to our team that we can bounce back the way that we kind of took over that game," said Jeffrey, who has 5 goals in 10 games this season, including three in his past five. "We started going north, we tightened up defensively and I think we became a lot more physical."
Despite the long break, Buffalo came out blazing, scoring on the first shift of the game and adding another goal 7:03 into the first period.
Gaustad's sixth of the season and second in three games came after Alex Goligoski turned the puck over to Rob Niedermayer, who fed Gaustad in the slot.
Grier was credited with the goal that made it 2-0 -- his first goal since Nov. 11 and third of the season -- when he came from behind the net and threw the puck into the crease, where it deflected off of the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman Deryk Engelland and past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
"We let up in the second period, and they took advantage of it," Sekera said. "I don't think it was panic, I just think we didn't play our best."
Fleury made 27 saves to win his seventh consecutive start. He has allowed only 12 goals in that span and now has a 25-11-2 record after a 1-6-0 start.
"There's a huge recognition of responsibility when certain players aren't in the lineup," Cooke said. "We have to find ways to win. No one wants to see anyone get hurt, but it happens. I think we as a group do a great job, our defense, (Fleury), everybody. Everyone's stepping up and raising their level to help this team be successful."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report