While the Penguins were in the midst of their six-game losing streak, the team said they needed to respond better when they are scored on. On Sunday afternoon in Tampa, center Evgeni Malkin
heeded that call and delivered for the Pens en route to their 6-3 win over the Lightning.
Pittsburgh watched a 3-0 lead evaporate into a 3-3 in a short 4:50-minute span of the third period. But instead of hanging their heads, the Pens responded with a valiant effort, led by Malkin.
The Russian superstar answered the Bolts by scoring two goals in 1:49 minutes to reclaim the lead. He added an empty-netter with 55 seconds remaining for his eighth career hat trick.READ MORE ABOUT MALKIN'S BIG NIGHT HERE
The Pens built themselves a comfortable three-goal lead when James Neal
scored his second of the afternoon just 34 seconds into the third.
But this is hockey. A lead is never safe until the final buzzer sounds. And when you factor in that this was a desperate Tampa Bay squad looking to snap their six-game winless streak – who's also second in the NHL with five wins when trailing after two periods – and you’ve got a recipe for an exciting third.
And that’s certainly what the teams cooked up, as the Pens and the Lightning combined for seven goals in the final frame in what resulted in an exciting 6-3 win for Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay got the ball rolling exactly two minutes into the period when Steven Stamkos sent a pass from behind the net to a waiting Matt Gilroy. The Bolts defenseman wristed it far side past Marc-Andre Fleury
to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to two.
The Lightning then cashed in on their first power play of the day just under five minutes into the frame when Ryan Malone – stationed at the back door – tipped a Vincent Lecavalier pass past Fleury, prompting head coach Dan Bylsma to use his timeout to stem the momentum.
Things really got interesting two minutes and 53 seconds later when Teddy Purcell stuffed a rebound chance into an open cage.
“We gave up the one and then the power-play goal was two. They get the scramble in front and you’re looking up and having two really good periods of hockey evaporate on you,” Bylsma said.
But the Pens didn’t hit the panic button. They gritted their teeth and dug deep, sticking to their systems and playing their systems – and it resulted in Malkin’s natural hat trick.
"It was a little bit back-and-forth, too many goals on their side. I wasn’t happy with that," Fleury said. "But it was nice how the guys responded to get some huge goals for us."
Bylsma was pleased with the effort from his entire team.
“I liked the response from our team the next shift. We had it from Pascal (Dupuis)’s line and then what Geno did in the game,” Bylsma said.”He stepped up. But we had a lot of guys step up when we needed it and when things were unraveling there when they got back to 3-3. It was Chris Kunitz
and James Neal
, Brooks Orpik
and Paul Maritn on the back end and then Geno getting goals 4, 5 and 6.”
Bylsma said entering today’s game that special teams would be a factor in this tilt against the Lightning.
And boy, was he ever right.
The Pens were pleased with their performance on the power play, finishing the day 2-for-5 with the man-advantage thanks to Neal’s pair. Pittsburgh entered the game 1-for-18 over their last seven games.
“It’s huge for the game. It gives us momentum when we score on the power play,” Neal said. “You want to do anything you can to get that goal on the man-advantage. We’re doing a great job moving the puck around and have a shot-first mentality. In Florida, we had the same approach and couldn’t find one.”
Neal is probably the most fitting person to discuss a shot-first mentality, as he leads the NHL with 186 pucks to the net. And his first goal came with just three seconds left on his team’s first power play of the game, when his bad-angle shot from behind the goal line snuck between Garon’s pads.
“I just tried to surprise the goalie. Get the puck off your stick as quick as possible,” Neal said. “Sometimes those go in. it’s never a bad shot. I’ll take those any time.”
Pittsburgh then began the third period with 1:46 remaining on a penalty to Lightning forward Steve Downie, where Neal blasted a Malkin feed just 34 seconds in to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead.
While the Pens did a solid job of staying disciplined – not giving the Bolts any power plays over the first two periods – the Bolts converted their lone man-advantage opportunity at a crucial point in the game to climb within one.
“They go on the power play and give themselves a chance to get back,” Neal said.
But the Pens were able to avoid giving them any more chances with the extra attacker for the remainder of the game, giving them the edge in special teams – and the victory.
Neal isn’t just scoring on the power play.
His two-goal outing on Sunday propelled him to second place (tied with Toronto’s Phil Kessel) among NHL goal scorers as he now has 24 on the season.
Overall, it was yet another productive outing for the trio of Kunitz, Malkin and Neal, who combined for seven goals, 12 points and 31 shots in Pittsburgh’s two-game sweep of the Sunshine State.
They couldn’t have picked a better weekend to make an impact, as Pittsburgh hit the road riding a six-game losing streak – their worst stretch in two years.
"With them getting goals and the power play getting goals, it helps us get on the other side of the win column," Bylsma said.
“We had to turn this thing around somehow. I got that goal in Florida and it gives you a boost. We got a win,” Neal added. “When you’re winning games and you have that confidence to score goals, you have that confidence to play the right way and do the right things. When you’re in a slump with losing, it’s tough to score goals and we weren’t generating offense.”
But as Bylsma pointed out, those players weren't the only ones to step up at opportune times this weekend.Richard Park
scored his first goal in six games after returning from injury on Jan. 6 against the Bolts. On Friday, Steve Sullivan
broke a six-game drought while Tyler Kennedy
got his first in five.
"We get a goal from Richard Park
, which was big. We need it from there and not just from Geno. We can’t count on just (Malkin and Neal) to get goals."
The Pens' defense certainly deserves some recognition for their efforts today, as they limited the Bolts and their high-powered offense to just 20 shots.
That includes holding Steven Stamkos, the first player in the NHL to 30 goals this season, without a shot.
The Bolts mustered just five shots in the first, eight in the second and seven in the third.
Conversely, the Pens fired 44 shots in Sunday's contest, the second straight game they've gotten 40 or more pucks to the net as they had 41 against Florida on Friday.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo