The Pittsburgh Penguins centre capped a furious third-period rally by taking a shot off his chest to tie the game with six seconds remaining, and then added the lone shootout goal to lift the Penguins to a 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
``You've got to win a lot of different ways,'' Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. ``I'm not sure we deserved the fate we got tonight.''
Neither did the Maple Leafs, who dominated play for long stretches against the NHL's hottest team but collapsed over the final 13 minutes of regulation as the Penguins won their eighth straight.
``I thought we played an excellent game, and that last goal was kind of lucky where hit him high in the shoulder,'' Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. ``We got sloppy toward the end.''
The Leafs appeared to be in complete control after Tyler Bozak
and Clarke MacArthur
scored 19 seconds apart in the third period to give Toronto a 4-1 lead.
Steve Sullivan and Joe Vitale scored to get Pittsburgh back in it, but Toronto looked as if it was going to escape thanks to a couple of stops by Jonas Gustavsson
Pittsburgh kept pressing as the clock ticked down, with Neal taking a feed from Steve Sullivan from behind the net and launching a shot from the right circle that quickly went airborne.
Malkin skated to the front of the net and flinched as the puck soared toward his head. It smacked off his shoulder and into the net, sending the crowd into a roar in a playoff-like atmosphere.
``Things are going well for us right now,'' Pittsburgh forward Craig Adams said. ``We're getting a lot of good bounces, and we're feeling good about ourselves in terms of never being out of a game. But I don't think we want to play too many games like that.''
Matt Cooke snapped a 19-game scoring drought for Pittsburgh, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots _ some in spectacular fashion. He turned away all three Toronto chances in the shootout. Mikhail Grabovski
scored twice for Toronto, and Gustavsson made 31 saves on a night when the Maple Leafs became the first time in more than a month to outshoot the Penguins.
At one point midway through the third period Fleury raced to the blue line trying to thwart a Toronto breakaway and found himself out of position. Defenceman Kris Letang scrambled to the net to stop a backhand by All-Star Phil Kessel
``I owe him for that,'' Fleury said of Letang's save.
The dive helped Pittsburgh keep their pre-all star break momentum going.
The Penguins raced into the break with seven straight victories to get back in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Despite the six-day layoff _ which included a couple of bonus vacation days as a gift from Bylsma _ Pittsburgh looked a little slow for much of the night.
Or maybe Toronto was that fast.
Using their speed to push the pace, the Leafs raced up and down the ice, seemingly turning every Pittsburgh mistake into an odd-man rush the other way.
Fleury was brilliant at times and lucky at least once. Bozak appeared to put the Maple Leafs up early in the first period, but the goal was wiped out when referees ruled Joffrey Lupul
interfered with Fleury.
The Maple Leafs weren't fazed, and Grabovski beat Fleury twice in the second period. Though Cooke deflected Paul Martin's shot to put Pittsburgh on the board, Toronto looked to be on its way after Bozak and MacArthur scored on consecutive shots a little over six minutes into the third.
``They played extremely well, they played extremely fast and made it really tough on our team,'' Bylsma said. ``Looking up and seeing 4-1 it was pretty indicative of how the game was going at the time.''
But not for long.
Sullivan and Vitale kickstarted the Penguins, and Pittsburgh kept swarming until Malkin broke through late.
``We took the game to them for the first 55 (minutes) and we sat back, tightened up a little bit and they took over the game and they just kept coming and they broke us,'' Toronto defenceman Dion Phaneuf
Malkin easily scored on Gustavsson in the shootout, and Fleury turned away all three Toronto shooters, including a nifty poke check on Kessel to end it.
The victory was the second boost the Penguins received in a span of three hours. The team revealed earlier Tuesday that captain Sidney Crosby is dealing with a soft-tissue injury in his neck.
There remains no timetable for the captain's return, but Crosby indicated he was hopeful the injury - which can mimic symptoms of a concussion - is treatable. NOTES:
Wilson coached his 1,352nd game on Tuesday, moving him into fifth on the NHL career list. ... Fleury played in his career-high 23rd straight game. ... The Maple Leafs scratched defenceman Keith Aulie and forwards Jay Rosehill
and Darryl Boyce. ... Ben Lovejoy and Arron Asham were scratched by the Penguins. ... The teams will meet again in Toronto on Wednesday.