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Red-hot Malkin leads Pens past Rangers 4-1

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- Two goals from Evgeni Malkin are always an attention grabber, but one from fourth-liner Richard Park turned out to be the difference for the streaking Pittsburgh Penguins.

Park broke a 1-all tie early in the third period by converting a 3-on-1 rush for his fourth goal of the season, helping give the Penguins a 4-1 victory against the NHL-leading New York Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Penguins have followed a six-game losing streak -- their longest since the 2005-06 season -- with four straight wins against Eastern opponents to move into sixth place in the conference.

There's no denying that Malkin, who has 7 goals and 2 assists during this four-game run, is the catalyst of the Penguins offense, but the secondary scoring that has lacked lately came through in a big way.

Early in the third period, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal tried to hold the puck in the zone along the left wall, but he missed and found himself trapped as Matt Cooke, Deryk Engelland and Park took off on an unlikely 3-on-1. Cooke fed the puck to the middle to Engelland, who slid it left to Park for a quick wrister that squeezed through the blocker arm and body of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for the game-winner.

"Malkin's line (with Chris Kunitz and James Neal) again is fantastic tonight and they all get on the scoresheet," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "But we need other lines to be effective and playing our way. To get a goal from that line tonight coming out of the d-zone off a wall play with the 'D' activating. Engelland and Park on a 3-on-1 and we're able to get the game-winner with that goal."

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang played for the first time since suffering a concussion in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 26. Bylsma said in the morning he would hold back Letang's playing time slightly in his return, but Letang wound up leading the team with 24:17 of ice time.

Letang had an assist, but he made his biggest impact midway through the first period with the Penguins leading 1-0.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 31 shots, was caught out of position as the puck deflected to the right point for Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. As Fleury scrambled to get back in position, Girardi fired a shot that seemed labeled for the mostly open net. Instead, Letang was able to deflect the shot with his stick and preserve the lead.

"Yeah, he dove for that," Fleury said. "He got a piece with his stick. It was a big save by him. I think I was there, but it didn't go in so that's all that matters."
Letang said the big workload in his first game back wasn't a problem.

"There were some plays where I felt like I need to get back into it, but overall I felt pretty good," Letang said. "I don't think I was perfect in the game. There's some little things I need to do. I felt pretty good coming into the game, shape-wise. I'm going to go from there."

The Penguins took command during the first 10 minutes of the game, but nearly found themselves behind 1-0 in the early going.

Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko took a pass at the left post from Ryan Callahan, but the puck deflected off his stick and wide of the net. The Penguins took off the other way with defenseman Paul Martin on a breakaway, but he was stopped by Lundqvist. The rebound, however, kicked to Kunitz, who buried it to make it 1-0 Penguins just 3:16 into the game.

It became more of a back-and-forth contest until midway through the second period, when rookie Carl Hagelin scored his eighth goal in 27 games to draw the Rangers even. The goal was set up by a nifty aerial backhand pass from the other side of the rink by Marian Gaborik, who hit Hagelin in stride for the five-hole goal.

Two defensive breakdowns in the third period proved to be the demise of the Rangers.

After Park put the Penguins up 2-1 just 2:23 into the third period, Malkin scored a highlight-reel goal off a Rangers turnover in their zone. Malkin swooped off the boards and toward the middle of the ice, where he eluded a sliding Michael Del Zotto, deked to his backhand, and roofed a shot over Lundqvist to make it 3-1.

Malkin added his second of the game into an empty net with 1:40 to play to ice it. He leads the League with 54 points, two more than Vancouver's Henrik Sedin in seven fewer games. Since Sidney Crosby left the lineup with a concussion on Dec. 5, Malkin has 15 goals and 15 assists in 18 games.

"The Rangers went to change, and I just pick it up in the middle," Malkin said of how he scored his goal. "I had a 1-on-1 with the goalie, he go down and I just move right and shoot backhand. It was a lucky goal. I go high because my backhand sometimes is not good."

For the Rangers, this marked the sixth consecutive game in which they have alternated wins and losses.

"I don't think we played that bad," said Lundqvist, who made 32 saves. "It's all the little details that at the end will be the difference. We have to do everything, if not perfectly, really well to win games."

"I guess everybody is used those five-game winning streaks, those seven-game winning streaks," Rangers coach John Tortorella quipped about his team's recent .500 play. "I don't think we played poorly tonight. But for a space of five minutes, we had some bad reads, some brain-dead reads and a couple of struggles with some players. (The Penguins) are that quick and that good, and they beat us."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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