and the Pittsburgh Penguins
were back to clicking on nearly all cylinders after a one-game blip.
sparked a three-goal first period with a pair of early tallies en route to his second career hat trick, and Conklin continued his run of magnificent play by stopping a career-high 43 shots as the Penguins skated to a 4-1 victory Monday night against the New York Rangers
at Mellon Arena.
Rebounding from a shootout loss in Atlanta on Saturday, Pittsburgh (26-16-3) moved into a tie for first in the Atlantic Division with the idle New Jersey Devils
. The Penguins have now won nine of 10 and have collected at least one point in 10 straight.
“It's been the same story. It's like a broken record (with Conklin),'' Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby
said. ''He's been so consistent and made some key saves, some big ones when we needed him to and gave us a chance to chip away.”
also scored for Pittsburgh on a two-man advantage and Crosby added a pair of assists to tie Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier
for the League lead in scoring with 63 points.
tallied for the Rangers (21-20-5), who lost for the sixth time in seven games and remained last in the Atlantic, despite having the most points of any fifth-place team. The one bright spot they could take from Monday’s game was a 44-23 advantage in shots, but the Penguins had Conklin to compensate.
Conklin, who has yet to lose in regulation (10-0-1) since being recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League on Dec. 6, was at his best during the second period, when the Rangers enjoyed a 17-2 shots advantage.
''I thought we had a great first period, but believe the second was not our best,'' Penguins coach Michel Therrien
said. ''(The Rangers) were playing with desperation.''
Conklin said: “I think I was a little busier at times than I’d like to be, but for the most part they were perimeter shots, shots I can see, and that’s what a goalie likes.”
A journeyman with a career 30-24-4-4 record prior to this season for the Oilers, Blue Jackets and Sabres, this is unprecedented success for Conklin at the National Hockey League level.
“I think the confidence comes from knowing the team’s going to score goals,” Conklin said, also pointing to his teammates’ diligence in their own zone. “I make one save, I know the defense is going to clear it out.”
Conklin made 31 saves through the first two periods and was chasing his third shutout before Jagr, the ex-Pens’ star, scored his 13th on a power play at 9:16 of the third ( 700K ).
Malkin ended any thoughts of a Rangers’ comeback by scoring into an empty net with 23.9 seconds remaining ( 700K ). His third goal gave him 23 for the season and delighted the home fans, many of whom promptly returned the souvenir hats they received on their way into the arena by flinging them onto the ice.
The Penguins and Rangers were the only teams in the League to play last night, and with all eyes in hockey squarely on them, the game got off to an entertaining start. Malkin brought the fans to their feet twice in a span of just over three minutes.
With Pittsburgh on an early power play after Paul Mara was sent off for holding, Malkin collected a pass from Crosby in the right-wing corner and skated out in front of the net unchecked. Given all sorts of room to maneuver, he beat Henrik Lundqvist on his stick side at 3:31 ( 700K ) for a 1-0 lead, extending his point streak to six games.
Only 3:02 later, Crosby burst into the Rangers’ zone off a perfect head-man pass from blueliner Rob Scuderi and ripped a shot that Lundqvist was able to stop. But he couldn’t control the rebound, and Malkin made it 2-0 when he skated in and tapped the puck past the Rangers’ goalie ( 700K ). Crosby picked up his League-leading 43rd assist on the goal.
''It's very easy to play with someone like Crosby,'' Malkin said through an interpreter. ''He's the best player in the world, and he was making such great passes so I just have to get myself open and he will get me the puck.''
Chris Drury and Michal Rozsival took penalties 1:33 apart late in the first and Gonchar quickly made the Rangers pay. Taking a pass from Kris Letang at the left point on a 5-on-3 advantage, Gonchar drilled home his eighth of the season ( 700K ) with 3:12 left in the first for a 3-0 lead.
''We gave them too much space tonight,'' Jagr said. ''We've got to play them differently. They're too young, too quick.''
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.