Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Brightest of the Shooting Stars Malkin Ignites Victory, Neal's Shootout Goal Is the Winner Penguins 2, Hurricanes 1

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Brightest of the Shooting Stars Malkin Ignites Victory, Neal's Shootout Goal Is the Winner Penguins 2, Hurricanes 1

Article excerpt

Evgeni Malkin has played some terrific hockey lately.

Quite possibly the finest of his career.

But maybe, just maybe, not his best of this season.

That, defenseman Brooks Orpik suggested after the Penguins' 2-1 shootout victory against Carolina Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center, might still be coming.

"Everyone you talk to says ACL [surgery], it takes you 12 months to recover," Orpiks said. "So if this isn't 100 percent for him, it's pretty scary. This is as well as he's played in a long time."

Or maybe ever.

Malkin, who had his knee surgically repaired Feb. 10, followed up his natural hat trick Sunday in Tampa by scoring the Penguins' only goal in regulation against the Hurricanes, then beating goalie Cam Ward again in the shootout.

Although Malkin's shootout goal did not settle the shootout -- James Neal got one that did that in the third round, before goalie Marc-Andre Fleury sealed the victory by rejecting Eric Staal -- once again no one did more to make this victory possible, even though he was not named one of the game's three stars.

"He's played some really good hockey," coach Dan Bylsma said.

So, on this night, did Fleury, who turned aside 25 of 26 shots during regulation and overtime, then stopped Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal in the shootout after being beaten by Jussi Jokinen in the opening round.

"He's playing unbelievable now," Malkin said. "The first goal he didn't see the puck, but when he sees it, he stops every one."

The same can be said of Ward, who rejected 40 of 41 shots before the shootout.

The only one that eluded him came off Malkin's stick at 18:38 of the first period, when Malkin knocked the puck away from Staal, then skated a few strides and stuck a shot under the crossbar.

"Not too many guys can make a quick play like that and put it top shelf," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said.

Staal is a pretty fair one, as well, but was victimized by a bouncing puck.

"That puck came off the glass and was bouncing around like a 'knucklepuck,' " Staal said. "You get a good bounce going the other way, it's a four-on-two. You get a bad bounce, and it goes on Malkin's stick and he buries it."

The victory was the Penguins' third in a row and, coupled with Washington's 3-0 loss against the New York Islanders, bumped them two points ahead of the eighth-place Capitals in the Eastern Conference. …

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