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Split Decision: Penguins Beat Panthers, 4-2, But Malkin Hurt



SUNRISE, Fla. — There is much for the Pittsburgh Penguins to like about these business trips to south Florida.

The warm temperatures certainly are appreciated during winter.

Same with the blue skies, which are generally bright and sunny when the Penguins are around.

And there surely is a lot to be said for spending a few days in a nice hotel just steps from the Atlantic Ocean.

And sometimes, the Penguins even enjoy the games that are the reason they come here in the first place.

Games like their 4-2 victory against Florida Thursday night at FLA Live Arena, which raised their record to 18-8-4 and their winning streak to seven.

It was a relatively rare win in south Florida for the Penguins, who were 1-2-2 in their previous five visits.

And it might have come at a cost, as Evgeni Malkin was injured midway through the final period.

The Penguins were on a power play and Malkin was hovering near the crease when a Sidney Crosby shot from above the left circle appeared to strike him in an unprotected area just above his shinguard.

The puck deflected into the Florida net at 8:05, giving the Penguins a 3-1 lead and Malkin his 10th goal of the season, but he was in obvious pain and had to be helped off the ice, and then to the dressing room.

Malkin was spotted after the game with his right leg heavily wrapped, but Mike Sullivan said preliminary indications are that his injury is not serious.

The Penguins already were without second-line winger Jason Zucker, who is out week-to-week, and defenseman Jeff Petry, who is on the Long-Term Injured list.

Florida, meanwhile, dressed just 17 skaters, one fewer than usual, because left winger Matthew Tkachuk was scratched, apparently because of illness. That was a significant loss, since he is the Panthers’ leading scorer and one of the NHL’s premier power forwards.

“He’s tough at the net-front,” Sullivan said. “He’s really good in the blue paint. He’s hard on the forecheck. He’s a physical guy. He’s a lot like his dad (longtime NHLer Keith Tkachuk), in that regard.”

Despite its shortfall in manpower, Florida took a 1-0 lead at 5:30 of the opening period, as Ryan Lomberg threw a shot past Tristan Jarry from the right side of the crease.

That was one of 34 shots the Panthers launched at Jarry, who stopped 32 of them.

Getting that kind of early advantage was nothing new for the Panthers; they have scored first in 20 of their 31 games this season.

Jarry kept the Penguins within a goal as the middle of the period approached when he stopped a breakaway by Nick Cousins, who had blocked a Marcus Pettersson shot, and the Penguins got the only power play of the period when Panthers center Eric Staal was penalized at 9:20 for “removing an opponent’s helmet.”

The Penguins, however, were unable to take advantage of that chance with the extra man.

Jarry came up big again in the first half-minute of the second period, denying Aleksander Barkov from the inner edge of the left circle.

The Panthers could have padded their lead when Jan Rutta was called for hooking at 3:21, but it was the Penguins who scored while Rutta was in the penalty box.

Kris Letang got the goal, taking a backhand feed from Bryan Rust, who had carried the puck down the left wing, and beating goalie Sergei Bobrovsky from in front of the net at 4:17. It was the first shorthanded goal by a Penguins defenseman since Jack Johnson scored one on Jan. 19, 2020.

Ryan Poehling got the second assist on that goal, which was Letang’s second of the season and his fifth career shorthanded goal, most ever by a Penguins defenseman. Letang had shared the top spot on that list with Larry Murphy and Randy Carlyle.

Jake Guentzel had a chance to put the Penguins in front just over nine minutes into the period when he got a 2-on-1 break with Crosby, but his shot missed the net.

Guentzel didn’t need long to make amends, however.

Just 50 seconds after Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe was caught tripping, Guentzel used his left skate to deflect a Malkin shot past Bobrovsky at 12:42.

The goal, Guentzel’s 14th, netted assists for Malkin, who has a seven-game scoring streak, and Letang.

It was the Penguins’ seventh consecutive game with a power-play goal, the longest such streak during Mike Sullivan’s tenure as head coach.

Jan Rutta was sent off for cross-checking Cousins with 55.8 seconds to go before the intermission, but the Penguins were able to kill that penalty without incident.

Malkin’s goal, however inadvertent, gave the Penguins a little breathing room, but that effectively disappeared at 10:13, when Sam Reinhart beat Jarry from inside the left circle to make it 3-2.

They subsequently killed an interference minor on Danton Heinen to stay in front, and Guentzel put the game out of reach by scoring into an empty net at 18:42.