Ryan Malone didn't plan it this way.
Didn't plan it at all, in fact.
He just figured that taking the puck to the net never is a bad play, and that there was a good chance he could get an offensive-zone faceoff for his trouble.
Didn't quite work out that way, though.
The next faceoff was at center ice.
That's where they're conducted after someone scores a goal, like the winner Malone got with 22.4 seconds left in the Penguins' 3-2 victory last night against Florida at Mellon Arena.
With the Penguins on their eighth power play -- the first seven had yielded nothing but frustration -- Malone weaved past several Panthers, then cut toward goalie Tomas Vokoun. As he neared the crease, the puck slid off his stick and between Vokoun's legs, skidding across the goal line to break a 2-2 tie.
"I knew there wasn't too much time left, so I just figured I'd bring it on the net," Malone said. "Actually, I kind of lost it there and got a nice little bounce."
That was the second of two goals in the final three minutes and 20 seconds of regulation for Malone, as the Penguins shredded the adage that it takes 60 minutes of solid hockey to win at this level by running off three unanswered goals in the final 15-plus minutes to wipe out a 2-0 deficit and 50 or so minutes of fairly forgettable hockey.
"We weren't good until the last five minutes, or whatever it was," left winger Jarkko Ruutu said.
The victory was the second in a row for the Penguins (34-21-5), who moved into a tie with New Jersey for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Evgeni Malkin assisted on the Penguins' first two goals to seize first place in the NHL scoring race, one point ahead of Washington winger Alex Ovechkin.
"It's a great feeling," Malkin said through an interpreter. "There's still lots of games left, and Ovechkin is a great player. We'll see what's going to happen."
Not surprisingly, Malkin's fingerprints were all over the Penguins' comeback.
"When the game's on the line, you want your best players to be at their best," coach Michel Therrien said. "When the game was on the line in the third period, Malkin was outstanding."
Florida's David Booth got the only goal of the opening period by driving a rebound past goalie Ty Conklin from just inside the left dot at 16:24.
"We have to figure out somehow to be better at the start," Ruutu said.
Conklin made a potentially game-altering save when he stopped Panthers winger Nathan Horton, who started the evening with at least one goal in six of his previous seven games, on a breakaway with a little more than 12 minutes left in the second.
Unfortunately for the Penguins, they didn't get a significant lift from Conklin's save, and Brett McLean made it 2-0 by scoring on a shorthanded breakaway at 12:18. McLean was able to move in alone on Conklin after Darryl Sydor failed to control a Jeff Taffe pass at the blue line.
"The first two periods, the execution was not there," Therrien said. "The transition game was not there. Our concentration was not there."
The Penguins finally got on the board at 4:43 of the third, when Colby Armstrong took a feed from Malkin and pounded a shot past Vokoun from the top of the left circle for his second in two games and eighth of the season.
Malone pulled the Penguins even at 16:40, as he used his right leg to steer a Ryan Whitney shot behind Vokoun.
"He put it right off my shinpads," Malone said. "I'll take that every time."
That goal seemed to secure at least a point for the Penguins. Malone doubled their take with his goal in the final minute, as the Penguins offset a night of mostly forgettable hockey with a brief stretch of inspired work.
"In the third period, we played with that urgency we had to play with," Armstrong said.
On this night, that was enough to produce a victory. Most of the time, it will not be.
"It's a great thing that we won," Ruutu said. "But we have to figure that out, somehow."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published February 20, 2008 5:00 AM