Penguins blow away Leafs

Malkin sparks 6-2 victory against Toronto with his first career hat trick

There were no snow squalls this time.

No helicopter flyovers -- there hasn't been one of those at Mellon Arena since the climactic scene of "Sudden Death" was filmed -- or bagpipe processions or throwback uniforms, either.

And the only fireworks came courtesy of the Penguins' offense, highlighted by Evgeni Malkin's first NHL hat trick and a three-goal outburst in 48 seconds early in the third period of their 6-2 victory against Toronto.

But while this clearly wasn't an event, the way the outdoor game in Buffalo two days earlier had been, the Penguins made it a night worth remembering.

They were sluggish early, but had gotten back in sync long before Tyler Kennedy, Malkin and Petr Sykora scored in a 48-second span to blow open what had been a one-goal game.

"[Goalie Ty Conklin] kept us in the game," Sykora said. "They had a lot of chances before that. We just put them away in the third."

This victory raised the Penguins' record to 22-16-2 and lifted them within one point of first-place New Jersey in the Atlantic Division, although the Devils have a game in hand.

"We're playing better and better every game," Malkin said through an interpreter.

Toronto, meanwhile, slipped to 2-5-2 in its past nine and remains last in the Northeast Division, although the Maple Leafs are only a few points removed from the Eastern Conference playoff field.

"We're on a roll but ... it's so tight, lose two games and you're out of the playoffs now," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said.

Jason Blake staked Toronto to a 1-0 lead at 10:34 of the opening period, when he snuck a backhander past Conklin from the right side of the crease. The goal was Blake's 20th in 42 career games against the Penguins, who seemed to have something of a Winter Classic hangover.

"If you don't move your feet and make bad decisions, basically, you don't give yourself a chance," Crosby said. "We weren't really doing the things we were supposed to in the first."

Erik Christensen pulled the Penguins even 84 seconds into the second. He collected a Sykora rebound at the left side of the crease, then swooped around the net and tucked it inside the right post before Maple Leafs goalie Scott Clemmensen could make it across the stop him.

The goalie, Christensen's sixth, also netted an assist for Jarkko Ruutu.

Ruutu's assist went largely unnoticed, but his fight with Toronto antagonist Darcy Tucker in the middle of the period did not. Either by the fans or by Ruutu's teammates.

"That was a key point, as far as we're concerned," Therrien said.

Ruutu and Tucker had a lengthy, spirited exchange of punches and when it was over, Tucker was using a towel to dab the blood that was leaking from a cut Ruutu's punches had opened near his left eye, while Ruutu had some swelling of his own to deal with.

"That was probably one of the best fights I've seen in a long time," Crosby said.

Suitable inspired, the Penguins' top line put them in front, 2-1, on a goal by Malkin at 14:22.

Colby Armstrong fed a pass to Crosby, who got off a wicked, turning backhander from near the top of the right circle. Clemmensen was able to stop Crosby's shot, but Malkin pounced on the rebound and flipped it into the net for his 16th.

That put the Penguins ahead to stay, as any chance the Maple Leafs had of salvaging a point or two disappeared when the Penguins staged their rampage early in the third.

Kennedy started it when he collected his own rebound, fought through the checking of Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle and backhanded the puck past Clemmensen three minutes into the period.

Malkin put the game out of reach at 3:37, tossing a shot into the net from the left side of the crease after Crosby had pushed the puck to him -- "The second one is probably my favorite one because Sidney made a nice move through the defense and made a nice pass," Malkin said -- and Sykora added an exclamation point by punching in his own rebound 11 seconds later.

"I haven't ever played in a game when we scored [so quickly]," Malkin said.

After Pavel Kubina whittled the Penguins' lead to 5-2 with a power-play goal at 12:53, Malkin completed his hat trick at 15:28 by scoring from the top of the right circle.

"Once he gets two, he's hungry for that third one," Crosby said. "He loves to score."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published January 4, 2008 5:00 AM


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