PITTSBURGH -- Twice down by two goals and still without their best player, the Pittsburgh Penguins did what they've done all season without Sidney Crosby. With equal measures of perseverance and improvisation, they overtook the Colorado Avalanche with a flurry of scoring.
A whole lot of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal helped, too.
Malkin stole the puck behind the net to create his own goal early in the third period, less than four minutes after setting up Brooks Orpik's tying score, and the Penguins scored the final five goals to rally for a 6-3 victory over Colorado at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
The turning point, several players said, didn’t occur during the outburst of goals but in the dressing room, where some team leaders expressed their displeasure after what forward Pascal Dupuis said was an "awful first period."
"We had a nice little chat between periods," Dupuis said. "You saw the result – we played some much better hockey."
Their coach saw it, too.
"We came back pretty hard, both in the room and the guys on the ice making a statement," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was evident someone had stepped up in the room but also on the ice. … There were some words and some action."
And a lot of goals in a short period of time.
Orpik, Malkin, Neal and Kris Letang all scored in a span of slightly more than nine minutes after Pittsburgh trailed 3-2 entering the third period. Neal, who has at least one goal in all eight Pittsburgh home games, put in his 12th of the season.
"We stayed focused the whole game, and when it came to the third period, we scored quick goals," said Malkin, who put the Penguins ahead to stay with his fifth goal.
Pittsburgh, down 3-1 following goals by Jay McClement, Matt Duchene and David Jones in the first period, won its fifth in a row at home and is 8-2-1 in its last 11 overall.
Neal, who trails NHL leader Phil Kessel of Toronto by one goal, figured in the first three of the Penguins' four goals during the third period. That was the perseverance.
Jordan Staal added his third goal in two games and Dupuis got Pittsburgh to within one goal at 3-2 by pushing the puck through a sprawling Joakim Lindstrom's legs and past Semyon Varlamov after the goalie appeared to have safely covered it up. That was the improvisation.
"Jordan Staal was exceptional all night long," Bylsma said.
Malkin and Neal? They were simply examples of star power.
The outburst visibly discouraged the Avalanche, who came in with a 6-2-1 road record and were 9-2 with a tie in 12 games in Pittsburgh since 1995. But, despite the early leads, the Avalanche found themselves trailing by at least three goals for the fourth consecutive game, and no team can constantly overcome such a deficit on a regular basis.
"We started to take the game a little bit to them," coach Joe Sacco said. "After that, we got caught back on our heels and they took the game to us. That's why you play three periods. You have to give Pittsburgh credit, they made a hard push."
McClement, held out of the last two games despite being an alternate captain, put a rebound of brand- new captain Milan Hejduk past Marc-Andre Fleury at 14:51 of the first. Then Duchene made it 2-0 with one of the NHL's most dazzling goals this season.
Paul Stastny beat Letang to the puck in the corner and fed it to the 20-year-old Duchene, who, with a slick bit of improvisation, passed the puck to himself through his legs while skating across the slot to beat Fleury with a backhander for his fifth goal in seven games.
With 7 goals overall, Duchene has more goals than any NHL player younger than 21, and they don't get much trickier or creative than this one.
Not that it mattered in the end.
The momentum shifted after Orpik scored his first goal in more than a year – or since Nov. 10, 2010 – with a slap shot from the left point that deflected off McClement and into the net to tie it at 1:11 of the third.
"His first and, hopefully, not his last," Malkin said.
Not long after that, Malkin stole the puck from Kyle Quincey behind the net before taking a giveback pass to beat Varlamov – previously 2-0 against Pittsburgh – with an inside-out move at 4:45.
"We were in the offensive zone a little bit long and the defensemen were tired," Malkin said. "I got it (through) the defenseman between his legs and got a breakaway on the goalie. I don't know, I liked the goal."
And the result. Even if the Avalanche didn't, especially the disparity in power plays. Pittsburgh was 1-for-7 to Colorado's 0-for-2.
"I thought we had pretty good control of the game at one point there, probably midway through the second," Duchene said. "We weren't able to get one more, and that was the game. We couldn't get any shots in the third because we were in the box the whole time."
Fleury, who made24 saves, is 7-0-1 in his last eight games, although this was his least effective game during that stretch. Pittsburgh is 6-0-2 against Western Conference teams, while Colorado lost for the first time in six games against the Eastern Conference.
Varlamov is 0-5-1 in his last six games and is winless since Oct. 30. The Avalanche are 1-5-1 in their last seven.
Penguins forward Tyler Kennedy returned after being out since Oct. 15 with a concussion and assisted on Staal's goal.
Crosby still hasn't played since Jan. 5 as he recovers from a concussion. The Penguins' next game is Thursday at Tampa Bay.