PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins are Sidney Crosby's team, and they have been almost since the day he was drafted in 2005. Right now they're Evgeni Malkin's team, and there isn't much of a dropoff in scoring or playmaking even with Crosby injured.
Malkin scored a goal and set up two others during Pittsburgh's offensive breakout in the third period, and the Penguins turned another strong game by goaltender Ty Conklin into a 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
Petr Sykora had a goal and an assist as Pittsburgh scored on four of its first nine shots in the third after goalie Cam Ward stopped 18 shots in the first two periods.
"We kind of saved the best for last," said Erik Christensen, who got the Penguins going by scoring from the low slot in the opening minute of the third. "Once we get that one, everyone wants more. We were certainly frustrated in the first two periods."
Malkin, surging offensively since Crosby injured his right ankle on Jan. 18, cut down the right wing boards and split between defencemen Bret Hedican and Tim Gleason to score his 28th goal and put the Penguins up 3-1 - their third goal in slightly more than nine minutes.
Nobody in their locker room is saying the Penguins don't miss Crosby, just as no one would have said they didn't miss Mario Lemieux during his many injury absences. Still, not many teams have a centre as good as Malkin to lead their top line when their biggest star is out.
"There's a lot of good players on this team, a lot of guys are getting a lot more ice time, and those are the guys have been waiting for a chance," Sykora said.
Malkin has five goals and four assists in the six games since Crosby went down for six to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain. The Penguins, coming off a 4-1 loss Wednesday in Atlanta, are 3-2-1 without Crosby and still have not lost successive games in regulation since Dec. 11-13.
"After we got a goal, we all got fired up," Malkin said.
Erik Christensen and Ryan Malone also scored for Pittsburgh, which got yet another effective game from Conklin, who started the season in the minors. Conklin made 27 saves and didn't allow a goal after Sergei Samsonov scored his fourth at 8:27 of the first period.
"They just seemed to gain confidence as the game went on and our play seemed to slip as the game went on, and it was pretty evident in the third," Erik Cole said after Carolina's second loss in six games.
Since being called up following Marc-Andre Fleury's ankle injury on Dec. 6, Conklin is 12-3-1 in 16 starts and has led Pittsburgh back into contention in the Atlantic Division. The Penguins have 62 points, one fewer than division-leading Philadelphia, after being in last place in late November.
"The first period we didn't play that well at all and we got an earful," Christensen said, declining to detail coach Michel Therrien's message. "We felt like we were getting our chances and once you get that first one, the floodgates opened."
Christensen tied it with 37 seconds gone in the final period, taking Maxime Talbot's pass from along the goal line to beat Ward from in front for his eighth goal. Malone made it 2-1 less than seven minutes later with his 14th, a goal awarded after a video review.
With Pittsburgh on a power play, Sergei Gonchar's shot from the point deflected to Malkin, who missed on his rebound attempt before Malone shoved the puck toward the net. Replays showed the puck trickling across the goal line.
"I think when they scored the second goal, that's when the momentum shifted," Samsonov said. "For the most part for two periods, it was an even game."
Until the Malone goal, Carolina - despite being 30th in the league on the penalty kill - had allowed only one goal in 18 opponent power play chances over six games.
Sykora added a second power-play goal, his 16th, later in the period with Gonchar and Malkin getting assists.
Notes: Carolina didn't score on the power play for the second time in eight games. ... Penguins F Colby Armstrong returned after sitting out two games with a flu-like ailment. ... Despite the loss, Carolina is 10-4-2 in Pittsburgh since 1999. The Hurricanes lost a 4-3 shootout decision in Mellon Arena on Oct. 19. ... Cole fought with Penguins D Brooks Orpik less than five minutes into the game. Cole's neck was broken when Orpik ran him into the boards in Pittsburgh late in the 2005-06 season, and Cole didn't return until Game 6 of Carolina's seven-game Stanley Cup finals win over Edmonton.