PITTSBURGH – Maybe it was a couple of agitating former teammates. Maybe it was their place in the standings. Maybe it was the booing fans.
Something set off the Pittsburgh Penguins and, for one of the few times in the last two months, they looked like the team that was two games away from winning the Stanley Cup last spring.
Evgeni Malkin finished a frantic Pittsburgh rally four minutes 44.5 seconds into overtime by scoring his second goal and the Penguins, looking lifeless while trailing by three goals early in the third, surged to beat Tampa Bay 4-3 on Wednesday night.
Malkin began the comeback by scoring his first goal not long after being checked into a corner by former teammate Mark Recchi early in the third. Malkin later set up Petr Sykora’s tying power-play goal with 3:29 remaining in regulation – one created by former Penguins forward Gary Roberts’ roughing penalty on Matt Cooke – after Sykora assisted on Mark Eaton’s goal.
“I’m mad because we’re losing,” Malkin said after being asked what got him going.
The Penguins, three points below the Eastern Conference’s playoff cutoff coming in, were in danger of losing their fourth in a row until NHL points leader Malkin scored his 23rd and 24th goals. Tampa Bay led 3-0 in rookie goalie Mike McKenna’s first career start before dropping its fourth in a row.
“You always look back at seasons, and turning points, and hopefully this is one for us,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “It was a big character builder for everyone.”
It’s been a big week for Pittsburgh comebacks not only in Tampa – the Steelers’ 27-23 win against Arziona in the Super Bowl there on Sunday night – but against Tampa. Coincidentally, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger watched from Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux’s private box and kicker Jeff Reed also attended.
Pittsburgh, 5-11-1 in its previous 17 games, did nothing against McKenna in the first two periods as Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier each had a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay. Former Pittsburgh forward Ryan Malone also scored.
“They were playing very well, they gave us nothing, it was hard to play out there,” Sykora said. “Geno got us going and we had a chance to come back. I felt we got so much life on Geno’s first goal.”
Malkin appeared agitated and was seen yelling toward Tampa Bay’s bench after being checked by Recchi behind the Lightning net early in the third. From then on, Pittsburgh was in control while outshooting the Lightning 17-5 over the final period and overtime. Pittsburgh had five of the seven shots in overtime.
“We talked after the second period and said, ‘Let’s go, guys, we have to shoot the puck,” Malkin said.
On the game winner, Jordan Staal briefly controlled the puck along the goal line, somehow regained it after pulling it away from two Tampa Bay defenders and passed in front to Malkin, who scored on a wrist shot before being pulled to his knees.
Malkin celebrated by throwing his body against the glass, and his teammates piled on top of him to celebrate what arguably was their best comeback victory of the season.
Roberts, part of Pittsburgh’s playoff run last season, was angry at a self-described “dumb penalty” that he said Cooke didn’t deserve to draw.
“I mean, we’re jostling all the way up the ice and obviously he’s famous for diving and never really playing with any honour,” Roberts said. “Unfortunately the rules protect guys like that. But, yeah … I’ve got to be smarter than that. There’s no excuse, up 3-2, it’s a bad penalty for me.”
Sykora tied it with 3:29 remaining during a scramble in front of the net. It began with Malkin’s one-handed shot toward McKenna, who made his NHL debut on Tuesday by stopping all 11 shots he faced in relief during a 3-1 loss against the New York Islanders.
McKenna finished with 31 saves. Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury made 21 saves.
“We were up 3-0 on a team going into the third period and then we didn’t play well. I let in too many goals,” McKenna said. “It’s not good enough.”
The Lightning, fourth from the bottom in the Eastern Conference coming in, had won eight of nine in Pittsburgh – holding a 30-17 scoring edge – and were in position to win their 15th in 18 against the Penguins. Tampa Bay won 2-0 in Pittsburgh on Dec. 23.
Notes: Crosby has been held to three assists in his last six games vs. Tampa Bay. … Pittsburgh is 5-6 in its last 11 home games. … Malkin increased his points total to 79. … The Penguins saluted the Steelers with video board tribute.