Evgeni Malkin has been referred to as a beast on the ice more than a few times this season. Saturday afternoon at the Consol Energy Center, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson found out what happens when you make a beast angry.
With his team already ahead by four goals, Malkin found himself fighting for space in Roloson’s crease. Something about Geno’s presence apparently offended the 42-year-old netminder, because he took a shot at Malkin’s head. Malkin returned the favor and both parties received roughing penalties.
“Of course (I was) mad because I’m just doing my job,” Malkin said of the incident. “I don’t know why he was mad. You know, I’m just controlling the puck and shooting and a defenseman (crosschecked me)…I don’t know why (Roloson) punched my face.”
Why Roloson got tangled up with Malkin doesn’t really matter, because Geno responded by recording his ninth career hat trick, and second three-goal game against the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
Malkin’s goals were varied – a bad-angle shot, an end-to-end highlight reel goal and a crease-crashing tally off of a rebound. But when he scored that first one, Malkin knew exactly how he wanted to celebrate.
“After I scored of course I wanted him to see my face,” Malkin said, laughing as he described how he glared at Roloson after scoring the first of three goals.
Malkin, who now leads the scoring race by four points, led the Penguins to another lopsided home win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Over their last two regular season home games against Tampa, the Pens have outscored the Bolts 12-3.
More lopsided than the scoring discrepancy between the two teams, though, are the head-to-head match-ups between Steven Stamkos and Malkin, currently the top-two scorers in the league, this season. In four games against the Lightning this year, Malkin has eight goals and 11 points. Stamkos finished with just two assists in the season series against the Penguins
Stamkos was certainly not held scoreless Saturday because of a lack of chances. He had one breakaway, opportunities on a half dozen Tampa power plays and rung a shot off of the right post with fractions of a second remaining in the second period.
The final score was not completely indicative of Tampa’s effort in what turned out to be a rout. Stamkos and the other Lightning skaters were extremely dangerous at times, particularly in the second period. Marc-Andre Fleury’s acrobatics and outstanding play, along with a few lucky bounces off of the posts, helped to keep the Penguins ahead by a large margin throughout the game.
“There were a few,” Fleury said, downplaying some of the Lightning’s scoring chances. “I think in the second they came pretty hard at us. It kept the game interesting I guess.”
Fleury kept the Pens afloat in a sloppy second period as both Stamkos and Martin St. Louis had breakaways. Fleury stopped both attempts, but also received help from Kris Letang, who tied up Stamkos’ stick and forced St. Louis to make a quick shot.
“It shouldn’t be overlooked today,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Fleury’s performance. “This game could have (had) certainly a different look if he didn’t make four, five spectacular saves…You look up and you feel good at 5-0, but it could have been easily a much closer game than that.”
While Stamkos was particularly frustrated when he hit the right post with time running out in the second, he probably became even more disheartened when he saw Malkin cut a path through every Tampa skater on the ice to score his second goal of the game and elicit chants of ‘MVP’ from the Consol crowd.
The Pens started fast, taking advantage of some odd bounces to score three goals in a 3:31 span in the first period.
Chris Kunitz sent a shot from the bottom of the left circle past Roloson to put the Pens on top at 11:09. Just 50 seconds later, Joe Vitale’s shot from the bounced to Matt Cooke in the slot. He lifted the puck over Roloson’s glove to give the Pens a 2-0 lead and what would turn out to be the game-winning goal. Zbynek Michalek’s interference penalty at didn’t slow the Penguins offense any as Jordan Staal received some help from an interfering linesman. After the linesman unintentionally tied up Victor Hedman near the blue line, Staal had a breakaway chance and was able to notch his team-leading third short-handed goal of the season with a quick shot through Roloson’s legs. Staal scored off of an odd-man break with Steve Sullivan to put the Pens ahead by four during a 4-on-3 power play.
A few minutes later, the scuffle between Roloson and Malkin took place, which apparently helped to seal the season series win for Pittsburgh.
Teddy Purcell corralled a loose puck that rebounded off of Zbynek Michalek to spoil Fleury’s shutout bid with 2:32 remaining in the middle frame.
At 13:42 of the third period, Malkin completed the his hat trick by burying James Neal’s rebound.
Pascal Dupuis added an eighth goal to cap the scoring with 48 seconds left to play in the game.
The Pens play another early game tomorrow against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Based on something Malkin said after the game, that could be very beneficial to them.
“I like playing in the afternoon,” he said. “(You) wake up, (have) a little lunch, come to the rink, it’s fresh. It’s an easy game.”
1) Evgeni Malkin
2) Jordan Staal
3) Marc-Andre Fleury
PIT: Chris Kunitz (17), Matt Cooke (12), Jordan Staal (20, 21), Evgeni Malkin (34, 35, 36), Pascal Dupuis (14)
TBL: Teddy Purcell (17)
PIT: Evgeni Malkin, James Neal (3), Joe Vitale, Zbynek Michalek, Steve Sullivan (3), Chris Kunitz, Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, Jordan Staal
TBL: Ryan Malone, Brett Clark
In the Net:
PIT: Marc-Andre Fleury (W) 33-34
TBL: Dwayne Roloson (L) 26-34