Down. Yes. Out? Not quite.
The Penguins returned from the All-Star break and pulled off a wild comeback Tuesday night, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-4, in a shootout after trailing by three goals in the third period.
Evgeni Malkin scored the winner, clanking one off the post to beat goalie Jonas Gustavsson on his stick side, as the only one of six shooters to score in the shootout.
The win pushed the Penguins winning streak to eight games.
Malkin and the Penguins top line came to life late in regulation, and he crashed the net with 6.6 seconds left and knocked in a shot by James Neal with his left shoulder.
"Malkin in the clutch?" joked coach Dan Bylsma. "I think he got it off the shoulder. He was in the right spot going to the cage and got us a huge goal 6-on-5 at the end."
Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 35 saves, but none bigger than those in the shootout. He stopped Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri, and, finally, Phil Kessel who broke to his left and never got off a good shot.
- Matchup: Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7:38 p.m. today, Air Canada Centre.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probably goaltenders: Brent Johnson for Penguins. Jonas Gustavsson for Maple Leafs.
- Penguins: Have won past four games on road. ... D Kris Letang entered Tuesday night game against Toronto at Consol Energy Center with no goals in 15 career games against Maple Leafs. ... Have scored first in 11 of their past 12 away victories.
- Maple Leafs: Are 14-8-4 at home, where they have won seven of past 10 games. ... RW Joffrey Lupul is scheduled to appear in his 500th NHL game. ... Have not allowed power-play goal in past nine games at Air Canada Centre.
- Hidden stat: Toronto RW Phil Kessel has scored 19 goals at home, more than any two teammates combined.
"This year, I think it's definitely up there," said Fleury about the comeback. "Before, we might have panicked or not felt as confident. We kept going the same way and got some big goals from Joe Vitale, [Steve] Sullivan and Malkin."
The Penguins had dug themselves a 4-1 hole to climb out of by 6:37 of the third period.
But Sullivan cut the gap to two, scoring off the rush at 8:33 and the Penguins converted again at 15:01 when Vitale poked in a rebound, catching Gustavsson down on the goal line.
"We're a pretty confident group right now," said Vitale. "I think a lot of teams, down, 4-1, in the third, might have shelled up and called it quits."
The Maple Leafs had taken an early, 2-0 lead on back-to-back goals from Grabovski at 6:51 and 9:55 of the second period on his 28th birthday, then widened it to 4-1 in the third.
Tyler Bozak converted on the power play at 6:18 of the third and Clarke MacArthur struck easily on an odd-man rush to make it 4-1 at 6:37 after a feed from Kessel. Toronto's speed made a marked difference, and the Penguins were not getting production from their top line to that point.
Toronto went up, 2-0, in the second period on Grabovski's two goals. The first came off a feed from defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who carried the puck down the left wing, passed it in front of the goal, then retrieved the rebound as he circled around the net. He fed Grabovski on the edge of the crease for a quick one-timer. Grabovski's second goal came on a wrister from the top of the circle through a screen on a 2-on-2 rush.
Matt Cooke snapped a 19-game scoring drought when he tipped in a shot by defenseman Paul Martin at 16:07 of the second to make it 2-1.
The Penguins avoided an early deficit when Joffrey Lupul was whistled for goaltender interference on what appeared to be a goal by Bozak.
Bozak took a feed from Kessel on the right wing, used two quick moves before backhanding one by Fleury and into the net. The goal was whistled off immediately because officials ruled Lupul had knocked defenseman Zybnek Michalek into the crease and interfering with Fleury.
"Bad call. Refs make mistakes, too. I didn't touch the goalie," said Lupul. "Their defenseman skated into him. That was, as far as I know, a mistake."
Toronto coach Ron Wilson also disagreed with the call.
Fleury finished the first period with 14 saves, including a flurry of shots on the doorstep by Lupul.
He flipped down into the butterfly at the crease top to turn away a point-blank shot by Grabovski from the slot just before that, smothering the puck on the ice.
"Marc let in four but played outstanding, had some huge, huge saves, allowed us to get to the shootout and we'll take the win," said Bylsma.
He finished the period nearly coughing one up after mishandling the puck behind the net.
Grabovski flipped the puck to the net front as Fleury darted back, but the Leafs never got a shot off.
"Their goalie made a number of huge saves at key points where we could have shot out to a bigger lead in the game," said Wilson.
First Published February 1, 2012 5:00 AM