The Pens and NHL’s first-place Rangers met in an intense and passionate contest that was reminiscent of a playoff game.
Both teams were physical, hustling, fighting for every inch of ice and every advantage. Players were diving to block shots, there were battles after almost every whistle and every shift had fans filled with nervous excitement.
"The last five, six games we've had physical starts," defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. "It wears the other team down. On the road it's huge against a team like that. It shows right away it's going to be a tough game. By the third period they definitely slowed down a little bit."
"It's always hard to play against the Rangers," center Evgeni Malkin
said. "They're tough at home. They have a great team and are the best team in the NHL. We stayed focused and deserve the win tonight."
In the end, the Pens broke a 1-1 tie in the third period with three unanswered goals for a 4-1 win at Madison Square Garden Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.
, again, was the heart and soul of this win for Pittsburgh. The Pens were clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period. That’s where Malkin stepped in.
A misplayed puck by Marc Staal along the far wall led to a takeaway by Malkin. He carried the black rubber to the net and pulled the puck around a sliding Michael del Zotto. Malkin then whipped a hard and surprising backhander past the glove of goalie Henrick Lundqvist to put Pittsburgh ahead 3-1.
"It was a lucky goal," Malkin said. "Because my backhand is not good (laughs)."
"I wouldn't use (the word) lucky," head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Malkin sealed the game with an empty-netter with 1:40 to play in the third period.
"It's not about my two points," Malkin said. "It's the two points for the team that's important."
With his two goals, Malkin now has 54 points (24G-30A) on the season, to extend his NHL lead in scoring. He has a four-game scoring streak with nine points (7G-2A). Malkin has nine goals in his past seven games.
The Pens received a huge boost with the return of defenseman Kris Letang
, who missed the previous 21 games with a concussion and broken nose. Before the injury, Letang was arguably the best blueliner for Pittsburgh and led the team in ice time on a regular basis.
"It was a good game and good test to see if I'm in shape," Letang said. "I felt pretty good out there. Overall, it felt pretty good."
Letang, who said he didn't experience any health problems, seemed to pick up right where he left off, leading the team in ice time with 24:17. Not to mention his assist, plus-2 rating and three shots on goal. Plus, he was strong in his own zone and even made a diving stick save on a shot with Marc-Andre Fleury
scrambling out of the net.
"I don't think I was perfect in the game," Letang said. "There are some little things I need to get used to. I'm going to go from there and keep going."
"It's tough to jump back in at game speed," Orpik said. "He'll just get better and better as he goes. He's a really talented guy. It shouldn't take him as long as most guys."
Author: Sam Kasan