With Pittsburgh’s postseason on life support, Evgeni Malkin
came to the rescue. The Penguins center scored two goals and added an assist for a three-point night as Pittsburgh flipped a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 overtime win. Malkin capped his heroic evening in overtime when he buried the game-winning goal.
“It was 3-0, and it went 4-3, and I scored two goals,” Malkin said. “Every player thinks, ‘I need (to) score and play hard.’ I try because we (were) losing and because we need to play playoffs.”
Pittsburgh opened a crucial four-game home stand with a monumental victory. The Penguins improved to 25-23-5 for 55 points. Pittsburgh currently sits at the No. 10 spot in the Eastern Conference but the win puts them only one point away from the eighth position - thanks in large part to Malkin's clutch performance.
“He really took the game over,” head coach Michel Therrien said. “It’s what you expect from your best players at crucial times and you could see the fire was in his eyes. He was ready to do everything that he can in his power to try to win this hockey game and he was a true leader tonight on the ice.”
Malkin showed leadership before the start of the third period when he addressed his teammates in the locker room.
“He kind of just said, ‘Let's go boys; let's get these two points,’” defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. “He doesn't say much in terms of getting the guys going. He kind of just leads by example. But he came in and said something before the third period and obviously that kind of gets you going when he says something because he doesn't say it very often. His actions spoke a lot louder than that did because he was about as dominating as you can be in a single period.”
“We talk after second period and say ‘Let's go guys, play hard and shoot the puck,’” Malkin said. “We didn’t play hard and shoot the puck and do the job (in the first two periods). After second period we talked in locker room. The guys understand what’s going on and played hard.”
Malkin, who was anointed as the Penguins alternate captain, has matured into one of the team’s young leaders.
He really took the game over. It’s what you expect from your best player at crucial times and you could see the fire was in his eyes. He was ready to do everything that he can in his power to try to win this hockey game and he was a true leader tonight on the ice. - Michel Therrien
“He’s a totally different person and he feels comfortable with the players, with his buddies,” Therrien said. “And he wants to act like a leader not only on the ice but off the ice, in the dressing room and on the bench, too. And that’s what you’re looking for. This is what leadership is all about.”
The game appeared over with the Lightning ahead by three goals in the third period. The Penguins’ fate looked sealed, but Malkin refused to let his team go quietly into the night. He was a force on the ice for the remainder of the game. Malkin played physical – evidenced by his four hits – skated harder than any other player and put on an inspirational showing to resurrect Pittsburgh's postseason hopes.
"Tonight it was Geno when he decided to put everybody on his back," Matt Cooke
said. "He can score more than anybody on this team. He controls the pace. He controls the tempo. He's physical and when he has the puck, it's like no one is going to get it off of him. Even if he loses (the puck), he's going to get it back. That's contagious."
Malkin jump started Pittsburgh’s improbable comeback by netting a goal 2:25 into the third period. He intercepted a breakout pass by Tampa Bay’s Paul Ranger at the blue line, batting the puck out of the air with his stick. Malkin skated towards the Lightning net and made a drop pass to forward Pascal Dupuis
. Malkin’s momentum carried him around the net as Dupuis unleashed a one-timer off the post. The puck died in the crease and Malkin alertly reached to poke it across the goal line.
“Geno made it through on the first goal,” forward Petr Sykora said. “He got us going and we knew that we had a chance to come back.”
Mark Eaton made it a 3-2 game with his second goal of the season. Malkin then set up Sykora for the game-tying goal with 3:29 left in regulation. The Russian native had the puck along the goal line and tried to made a backdoor pass. Sykora fought his way through a scrum in front of the crease to bury the puck and force overtime.
“I think the second and third goals, (we) just put the puck toward the net and just go battle for it,” Sykora said. “When you do those little things you are going to get rewarded with those big, important goals.”
Every player thinks, ‘I need (to) score and play hard.’ I try because we (were) losing and because we need to play playoffs. - Evgeni Malkin
No goal was bigger or more important than the final goal. Malkin had one more magical momentum up his sleeve in the overtime period. Jordan Staal
fought for a loose puck in the corner and made a centering pass to Malkin, who was atop the crease. Malkin fought through a check to rifle the puck through Lightning goaltender Mike McKenna’s five-hole for the win.
The exuberant Malkin flung his stick aside and threw his body into the glass in a demonstrative celebration before he was mobbed by his teammates.
“You saw how excited he got after every single goal we scored,” Orpik said. “Whether he was getting a point or if he wasn't getting a point, he genuinely gets that excited. It was great to see. We definitely needed those two points at the rate we were going, that's for sure.”
“It's a great game and I feel great. I think it's next game now. We need to make playoffs and we needed (to) win (this) game and next game, too.”