There's no stopping Evgeni Malkin
these days – even if it takes him more than 59½ minutes to get going.
Malkin scored the tying goal on a deflection with 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation, then was the only skater to find the net in a three-round shootout as the Pittsburgh Penguins
surged back from a three-goal deficit to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs
5-4 at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
"Everybody was not playing the right way tonight," Penguins defenseman' Kris Letang
said. "I don't think our team gave a solid effort but, at the end of the day, we had guys that had big goals and big plays at the end of the game."
The Penguins have won a season-best eight in a row, with the last two and four of six decided in shootouts. Malkin and Chris Kunitz
scored in a shootout as the Penguins won 3-2 at St. Louis on Jan. 24 in their final game before the All-Star break.
Malkin, the NHL scoring leader with 59 points, has 10 goals and four assists during Pittsburgh's longest winning streak since it won 12 in a row last season.
During a night that couldn't have started much worse or ended much better for him, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
surrendered two goals to Mikhail Grabovski
as Pittsburgh fell behind 4-1, but bounced back to make 35 saves. Fleury then turned aside Grabovski, Nazem Kadri
and Phil Kessel
during the shootout.
"I haven't looked at the numbers across the League, but I feel he's the best (goalie) to have in there during a shootout," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins are 7-2 in shootouts to Toronto's 3-3.
Fleury made a succession of acrobatic saves despite yielding the four goals during his 23rd consecutive appearance; he has not had a night off since Dec. 3. Penguins forward Joe Vitale
said that if it hadn't been for Fleury, "It could have been 8-0, easily."
"He was the best player on the ice," Toronto forward Joffrey Lupul
said. "He made huge saves."
Still, the save of the night was made just ahead of Pittsburgh's comeback by Letang, the All-Star defenseman who stretched out full length with his stick to block Tyler Bozak
's shot toward an unguarded net. Fleury had abandoned the net to stop Bozak's breakaway attempt.
"I knew the guy didn't have a lot of time to put it in the air, so I just tried to put my body on the ice and my stick, and I think he just didn't get a lot of it," Letang said.
The Penguins responded with a three-goal flurry in which Steve Sullivan
, Vitale and Malkin scored in less than 12 minutes.
The encouraging news the Penguins received about superstar Sidney Crosby
earlier in the night – he has a treatable neck injury that may have mimicked a concussion – didn't initially create much of a momentum surge.
"But when you win eight in a row, you're dealing with a pretty confident group, and I think confidence comes when you're down 1-0 or 2-0 or even 4-1 in the third," Vitale said.
Malkin emerged from the week-long All-Star break with nine goals in seven games, only to be initially upstaged by Grabovski, who had a goal and four assists in two games last week.
Grabovski, the NHL's First Star last week, scored the game's first two goals slightly more than three minutes apart in the second period and now has seven points in his last two games.
After Matt Cooke
scored for the first time in 20 games for Pittsburgh, the Maple Leafs appeared to have sealed their third successive win when Bozak and Clarke MacArthur
scored 19 seconds apart early in the third period, making it 4-1. Bozak hadn't scored since Dec. 19 before netting a power-play goal.
But was it over? Not yet.
Sullivan and Vitale made it 4-3 before Malkin's tying goal – his 27th -- came with an extra attacker on the ice and the Penguins pressing in the closing seconds. James Neal
's shot from the right circle deflected off Malkin's chest at the edge of the crease – Malkin wasn't even looking to make a play – and past a surprised Jonas Gustavsson
, who was visibly angry at surrendering a goal with victory so near.
"We got sloppy toward the end," Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "Even with the empty net situation, all we had to do was chip it off the boards and the game was over, and we didn't do that."
Malkin's goal was upheld on video review as the Penguins won their fourth in a row at home, all after regulation. The longtime Maple Leafs antagonist has nine goals and 27 assists in 18 games against them.
The teams meet in the second game of their home-and-home series Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
"We're not happy with this," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf
said. "It's unacceptable to have that lead and lose that hockey game. … We took the game to them for the first 55 minutes, but after that we sat back and tightened up and they took over the game. They broke us."
Toronto also had an apparent goal by Bozak waved off for goaltender interference in the first period. Lupul disputed the call.
"In hindsight, it was an important goal to be waved off," Wilson said.