Evgeni Malkin’s scoring burst was good enough through two periods that the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to hold off the Chicago Blackhawks in the lackluster third.
Malkin had three assists as Pittsburgh built a three-goal lead, held off a furious charge by the NHL-leading Blackhawks, and snapped their five-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night.
”He is definitely demanding of the puck right now,” said Chris Kunitz, Malkin’s linemate. ”He wants to make plays, and he is having success He is just a dominating player when he wants the puck.”
Malkin assisted on goals by Kunitz, James Neal and Tyler Kennedy, giving him points in all six games since Penguins captain Sidney Crosby left the lineup again because of concussion symptoms.
Malkin has six goals and nine assists in that stretch in which the Penguins lost three of the first four before Malkin had a hat trick in an 8-3 victory over Buffalo on Saturday.
Just 20th in the league in points on Dec. 13, Malkin’s 11 points in four games over a week have moved him into a tie with Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and Henrik Sedin for the NHL lead with 39. Malkin has at least two points in nine of his past 14 games.
”Geno has been a force offensively,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. ”He’s also a guy we’re counting on to play against other teams’ top lines right now, and he’s been good at both ends of the rink. He’s been powerful, making plays and driving the net. He’s going to have 10 scoring chances again tonight the way he’s dominating and the way he’s playing.”
Jonathan Toews and Viktor Stalberg scored over the first 6:12 of the third for Chicago (21-9-4), which had won five straight on the road.
The Blackhawks dominated the final period, holding a 19-4 edge in shots. They had a 6-on-4 skating advantage for the final 1:29 after a tripping penalty to Neal — his third minor of the game — and the pulling of goalie Ray Emery.
But they couldn’t beat Marc-Andre Fleury, who moved into second in the NHL with his 17th win of the season and 201st of his career.
”It was a little crazy back there,” Fleury said. ”We made it interesting with that penalty, but the guys on the PK did a very good job with the six-on-four.”
Coming off a career high-tying, five-point game, Malkin matched the season high for assists he set Saturday. During a first-period power play, Malkin slid a deft pass to Kunitz to spring him into the Blackhawks’ zone. Kunitz beat Emery between the pads to score for the third straight game, netting his 12th of the season.
The power play resulted from an instigating penalty given to John Scott, who reacted after Deryk Engelland led with his forearm in delivering a hit to Marcus Kruger’s head. Kruger played the remainder of the period but didn’t play after that.
Engelland wasn’t penalized for the hit.
”Tough hit,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. ”High hit in a tough area. He was in a tough spot.”
Quenneville said Kruger would be evaluated Wednesday.
Malkin set up Neal for his 19th of the season — 13th at home — 2:45 into the second. Neal has a six-game point streak.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen assisted on each of the game’s first two goals to give him 100 career points and nine points in eight games.
Kennedy made it 3-0 with 3:27 left in the second with his fourth of the season and first since Nov. 25 off a nifty setup from defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who played his first game since Nov. 3 due to a broken wrist.
The Penguins were 11-0-2 when leading after two periods, but the Blackhawks had rallied for at least a point in five of 13 games they trailed heading into the third.
Just 49 seconds into the third, Toews matched Neal with his 19th as each moved one behind Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos for the league lead in goals.
Stalberg had the first assist on the goal by Toews, and he scored his sixth of the season 5:23 later, the result of crisp passing by Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
”We basically handed them two points,” Stalberg said. ”We have to play like we did in the third for a full game. It’s as simple as that.”
NOTES: Chicago LW Patrick Sharp had his career-best, nine-game point streak snapped. It was the longest in the NHL this season. … Hossa extended his point streak to six games. … Blackhawks D Brent Seabrook played two days after being knocked out of a win over Calgary Flames on an illegal hit from behind by Rene Bourque. Bourque was suspended for two games. … Blackhawks LW Dan Carcillo sat out a third consecutive game because of an upper body injury. … Pittsburgh C Jordan Staal (lower-body) played for the first time in three games. … Toews leads the NHL with 23 road points. … Chicago hasn’t won in regulation in Pittsburgh since Feb. 22, 1997. … The Blackhawks fell to 10-3-4 in one-goal games.