The Pittsburgh Penguins built a 3-0 lead, then had to hold off a furious late-game comeback by the Chicago Blackhawks in a 3-2 win at CONSOL Energy Center Tuesday night, snapping the 'Hawks five game winning streak.
Evgeni Malkin posted assists on all three Penguin goals, giving him eight points in his last two contests. The native of Magnitogorsk, Russia has scored six goals and notched 15 points during a six-game point streak, in which he has pulled into a four-way tie for the NHL scoring lead with Toronto's Phil Kessel, Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, and Vancouver's Henrik Sedin, who all have 39 points.
Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 36 saves, including 17 in the third period, in winning his 17th game of the season, the second-highest league total next to Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard's 20.
Chicago's Ray Emery finished the night with 25 saves in taking the collar for his first regulation loss in eight decisions, breaking a 6-0-1 stretch. It was just Emery's second loss in 60 minutes this season (9-2-2).
The Penguins, who ended the evening just 1-7 on the power play, got the scoring started while on a questionable man advantage opportunity.
Deryk Engelland left his feet and drilled Marcus Kruger with a hit targeted at the head along the Pittsburgh defensive right wing boards, but the illegal hit was somehow overlooked by the officials. Kruger would leave the game, and his status going forward is unknown. Engelland may have escaped a penalty at the time, but it's doubtful that NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan won't hand down a suspension for the hit on Kruger. Expect a ban for Engelland in the two-to-four game range.
At any rate, John Scott was given an instigation minor when he stepped in to defend his fallen teammate by fighting Engelland, and Pittsburgh took full advantage on the ensuing power play.
Malkin coralled the puck at his own blue line, turned, and fired a perfect pass to Chris Kunitz, splitting the Chicago defense pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy. Kunitz went in alone on Emery, beating the goaltender with a quick move and sending a shot through the five hole for his 12th goal of the season and a 1-0 Penguins' lead at 10:02 of the opening period.
Pittsburgh would double the lead in the second period courtesy of James Neal. Moments after Emery robbed Malkin with a quick kick of the right pad on a shot that was ticketed for the far corner, Neal entered the 'Hawks zone along the right wing boards on a two on one with Kunitz. Using Kunitz as a decoy, Neal snapped a blistering wrister past Emery's blocker side and inside the far post for his 19th goal of the year, giving the Pens a 2-0 lead at 2:45 of the middle frame.
Late in the second Ben Lovejoy skated around the net and found Tyler Kennedy alone in front of Emery, and Kennedy beat the Chicago netminder to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead heading into the third period.
But the Blackhawks wouldn't go down without a fight, as Jonathan Toews struck quickly in the third stanza to give Chicago new life. The Blackhawks captain's centering pass for Viktor Stalberg hit off Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen's stick and banked off Fleury's skate and dribbled into the net for Toews' 19th of the year to make it a 3-1 game just 49 seconds into the final period.
The goal seemed to jump start the 'Hawks attack, and it wouldn't take them very long to strike again.
The line of Stalberg, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa combined on a beautiful goal, with all three touching the puck in rapid succession, culminating in a Stalberg goal on a tap in from right in front of Fleury for his sixth of the season. With 13:48 remaining in regulation, the Blackhawks had plenty of time to try to get the equalizer.
With Chicago swarming with by far their best offensive pressure of the night, Fleury was standing on his head. Stalberg did beat the Pittsburgh goalie to the glove side but hit the post, his second time catching the iron in the game.
The Penguins were able to hold on, increasing their point total to 42 for the season. By taking the two points, they kept pace with the New York Rangers, who beat the New Jersey Devils Tuesday night, as both moved to within two points of the Atlantic Division leading Philadelphia Flyers.
By virtue of the Minnesota Wild dropping a 2-1 decision to the Calgary Flames Tuesday night, the Blackhawks remained first overall in the NHL with 46 points, just one point ahead of both Minnesota and the Bruins.