January 3, 2008
PITTSBURGH (AP) -Indoors or outdoors, the Pittsburgh Penguins are hard to beat these days.
Evgeni Malkin had his first three-goal game in the NHL and the Penguins put away Toronto with three goals in 48 seconds early in the third period, returning indoors for a 6-2 victory Thursday night that ran their season-best winning streak to five games.
"The team winning is the best feeling," said Malkin, last season's Rookie of the Year. "The team is winning games. We're playing better and better every game."
Sidney Crosby assisted on two of Malkin's goals, Petr Sykora had a goal and an assist and Ty Conklin turned aside 33 shots to improve to 6-0 as a starter since being called up from the minors following goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's severe ankle injury.
"Once he gets one, he wants to get two and thereafter, too," defenseman Brooks Orpik said about Malkin. "He really looked good."
The Penguins showed no aftereffects from their physically demanding 2-1 Winter Classic shootout victory Tuesday in Buffalo, the NHL's first regular-season outdoor game in the United States. The players talked during a long practice Wednesday of not getting caught up in the emotion and the aura of the showcase game, watched by the largest crowd to attend an NHL game.
"The ice was different (in Buffalo), the game was a little different," forward Jarkko Ruutu said. "It was fun and entertaining, but I was sort of tired at the end of it and I'm sure guys were, too."
With the Penguins dragging a bit midway through the second period, Ruutu sought out a fight with Darcy Tucker. The Penguins went on to score four goals in the next 9 1/2 minutes.
"The guys really responded to the fight," coach Michel Therrien said. "That was a key point as far as we were concerned and it's a good sign when you see your teammates respond."
The Penguins supported Conklin with another solid defensive effort - they have allowed eight goals during the five-game streak. With a much better ice surface on which to skate and no blowing snow, the Penguins seemed back in their element.
"Momentum is a funny thing and they capitalized on it," Maple Leafs goalie Scott Clemmensen said. "They got us back on our heels and before we could take a breath, they knocked three quick ones in on us."
Rookie Tyler Kennedy started the Penguins' four-goal flurry in the third by scoring 3 minutes in, making it 3-1 after Jordan Staal gained control of the puck along the boards and set him up.
Malkin scored again 37 seconds later and, after the Penguins won the ensuing faceoff, Sykora scored his first goal since Dec. 11, causing Toronto coach Paul Maurice to hastily call a timeout.
"An outburst like that shouldn't happen," defenseman Hal Gill said. "We should get fired up after they score a goal and go back at it, but that didn't happen. We were controlling the tempo but then we slacked off and they got comfortable and they got the momentum."
Malkin made it 2-1 with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the second period, setting up down low and scoring off Crosby's pass from the high slot. Eric Christensen had scored the tying goal, his sixth, on a wraparound in the opening 90 seconds of the period.
Malkin looked as though he might miss getting the hat trick when he whiffed from the side of the net during a Penguins power play late in the third. But shortly after that he scored his 18th goal of the season - celebrating by waving his arms, yelling and skating with a flourish behind the net.
"He's been close a few times and he really loves to score goals and it's great to see him that happy and finally get that," Crosby said. "To be able to get one, then another one, that puts a lot of pressure on a team."
Mats Sundin assisted on both Toronto goals, but the Maple Leafs lost their fourth in five games and seventh in nine games. Sundin has 13 goals and 20 assists in his last 19 games against the Penguins and 81 points in 39 career games against them.
Notes: Toronto reached the halfway point of its season with a 16-17-8 record. ... In a switch, the Penguins wore their white jerseys at home and the Maple Leafs wore their home blue. ... The Penguins are 14-5 since being a season's worst 8-11-2 on Nov. 21. ... Crosby doesn't have a regulation goal in six games, but has a goal and 11 assists in his last seven games.