Once Evgeni Malkin got angry, the game really got out of hand.
Malkin had his ninth career hat trick, Jordan Staal added two goals and the Pittsburgh Penguins won for the fifth time in seven games by routing the Tampa Bay Lightning 8-1 on Saturday.
Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke and Pascal Dupuis also scored and Marc-Andre Fleury made 34 saves for Pittsburgh, which has won eight of nine home games and leapfrogged the New Jersey Devils in the crowded middle of the Eastern Conference playoff-race pack.
Malkin had five goals and two assists in his previous two games against Tampa Bay, but he wasn’t able to get untracked in this one until he got into a bit of a skirmish with Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson with Pittsburgh leading 3-0 eight minutes into the second period.
That’s when Roloson shoved Malkin to the ice with extended arms after he was fighting for position in front of the net.
”Of course I was mad because I’m just doing my job,” said Malkin, who responded by throwing a punch back up at Roloson with his back on the ice. ”I don’t know why he’s mad; I’m just trying to control the puck and shoot and the defenseman cross-checks to my back. … I don’t know why he punched me in my face.”
Staal scored his second of the game two minutes later and Malkin made it 5-0 at 16:03 when he converted a poor-angle, one-timed slap shot off a pass from Kunitz along the right-wing boards.
Malkin scowled at Roloson, staring at the 42-year-old goalie until teammates arrived for the celebratory group hug.
”I wanted him to see my face,” Malkin said.
”He was actually telling me where (the puck) went,” Roloson said.
”Him and I always have a little battle anyway,” added Roloson, who stymied the Penguins in a seven-game first-round playoff triumph last April. ”He was just coming to the net hard and takes me out. So, it’s just one of those things, I’ve got to defend my area and he knows that as well as I do, so we had a good laugh afterward about it, so, you know, it’s part of the game.”
Malkin’s finest goal of the afternoon came 5:50 into the third when he stick-handled through three defenders before beating Roloson. That elicited chants of ”M-V-P” from the 239th consecutive sellout crowd in Pittsburgh.
He added 36th goal of the season – second in the league only to Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos – with 6:18 to play, poking in a rebound of a James Neal shot while on the power play.
”Just another great game by him,” Staal said. ”He goes in spurts; he can take over a game with one shift. He’s definitely a lot of fun to watch.”
Malkin added an assist while moving past Stamkos for the NHL scoring lead. Stamkos had tied him with 11 points in his previous four games, but was held scoreless by the Penguins.
Malkin had three goals in a game for the third time this season. He has eight goals and 11 points in four games against Tampa Bay this season.
Pittsburgh scored three goals 3:31 apart late in the first period, and Fleury made several quality saves to preserve the lead until Malkin’s outburst.
”(Fleury) shouldn’t be overlooked today,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. ”This game could have had a significantly different look if he didn’t make four of five big saves. … At the end, you see 8-1, but the score could have been a lot different.”
Desperate to climb back into playoff contention, Tampa Bay has lost two consecutive games following a three-game winning streak. Teddy Purcell scored for the Lightning, who had a 35-34 advantage in shots on goal.
”We felt that we had the upper hand in the first period and it’s 3-0 for the opponent,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said. ”So that’s tough for our guys to take. And then they bury their chances after and slowly took the game away.”
Cooke’s goal was his fifth in his past 13 games and 12th for the season. Dupuis added his 14th at 19:12 of the third, with Staal earning an assist to give him his first three-point game of the season. Sullivan had the second assist, his third of the game.
Notes: Lightning D Victor Hedman did not play in the third period due to an upper-body injury and will be evaluated Sunday. … Malkin has 21 multipoint games this season. He has 77 points in 54 games. … Tampa Bay RW Ryan Shannon (upper body injury) did not play and was termed day to day. … The Penguins are 20-0-2 when leading after two periods. … Kunitz has 10 points over his past seven games. … Malkin and Sullivan have four-game point streaks. … Staal’s first goal came short-handed, Pittsburgh’s ninth of the season and third in the past four games. … Pittsburgh D Brooks Orpik (upper-body injury) returned to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s win against the New York Rangers. … Stamkos has only three goals in 16 career games vs. the Penguins.