Evgeni Malkin ended a six-game pointless drought with an assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins regained home ice advantage with a 4-2 win in Tampa.
Malkin had three goals and six assists in his first six playoff games this season, scoring in all six games, but must have hit a wall as he returned to action after missing five weeks with an upper body injury.
The Penguins will be tough to beat if Malkin regains his scoring touch and he sure is starting to look good again.
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PITTSBURGH 4 TAMPA BAY 2 (Pittsburgh leads series 2-1)
The Penguins were carried by the Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin line yet again as Kessel and Hagelin each chipped in with a goal and an assist while Bonino picked up one helper, his tenth of the post-season.
The Penguins got off to a 1-0 lead with only 10 seconds left in the second period when Hagelin knocked in a rebound off a Kessel shot. The goal apparently opened the floodgates to a wild third period in which five goals were scored.
Kessel doubled the margin in the third on a gorgeous pass from Bonino. The former Bruin and Maple Leaf now has seven goals and 16 points but has been really hot of late with four goals and eight points in his last five games. This was the Kessel the Penguins thought they were acquiring from Toronto and they gave up very little ( Kessel, Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and a return of the Penguins second round pick in the 2016 draft for Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling and the Penguins first and third round picks in the 2016 draft) to get an elite NHL scorer.
The Lightning cut the lead in half just 14 seconds after Kessel’s goal as Tyler Johnson picked up his fifth of the playoffs but Sidney Crosby, with his second in two games as he had the overtime winner in Game 2, gave the Penguins the two goal margin once again with the eventual winner. It was a power play effort, as the Penguins were one-for-three on the night.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was sensational as he stopped 44 shots including 30-of-31 in the first two periods. The Lightning should have a nice problem on their hands next season as Ben Bishop and Vasilevskiy give them the best one-two punch in net of any team in the NHL. Should there be an expansion draft after the 2016-17 season, don’t be surprised if the Lightning deal one of their goalies as Tampa Bay would not like to lose one for nothing in the expansion draft.
Matt Murray stopped 26 shots in the win as he is now 9-4 in the post-season with a sparkling 2.13 GAA and a .928 save percentage. The Penguins also have two solid netminders with Marc-Andre Fleury as the other. Don’t be surprised if the Penguins are forced to do the same as the Lightning in an expansion draft.
Olli Maatta once again sat out in favor of Justin Schultz and Schultz provided the one thing he does well as an NHLer. He is a good power play player and he assisted on Crosby’s winner as did the aforementioned Malkin.
Kessel led all skaters with eight shots on goal.
Alex Killorn took a two minute minor for roughing with 19 seconds left in the game, as well as a ten minute misconduct to lead both teams with 12 minutes.
Patric Hornqvist appeared to have suffered a hand injury when blocking a shot with 7:10 to go in the third period. He did not return.
The Lightning out-hit the Penguins 30-16.
Tampa Bay has lost two in a row for the first time in the 2016 playoffs.
Game 4 is on Friday at 8pm ET.