PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin picked up right where he left off.
Malkin scored two goals in his first game back from an injury to help the Pittsburgh Penguins defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 6-5, on Sunday at Consol Energy Center.
Facing a 5-4 deficit after two periods, Pittsburgh (30-12-2) recorded the first 10 shots of the third period and Malkin took advantage by scoring his second goal of the game. Malkin collected a rebound off of a shot from James Neal to tie the game 5-5 with 11:31 remaining.
"It was a tough game for me. I'm a little bit tired," Malkin said. "But the rest of my line, they did a great job and most of the time we used the offensive zone. It was a good game for us."
Malkin finished with three points in his return from a lower-body injury that forced him to miss nine games.
Matt Niskanen slapped the game-winning goal past Al Montoya 4:09 after Malkin's equalizer. With the victory, the Penguins tied a franchise record with their 12th consecutive home win.
"Every time we come in here, it's a tough place to play," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "There are a lot of goals being scored. A lot of goals being scored by both teams. Tonight, at least. It hasn't always been that way. But you're going to have to defend against this team. They gave us five goals, so it wasn't like they were putting on a real clinic either."
With Winnipeg (19-20-5) holding a 2-0 lead after the first period, the teams combined for seven goals, including four by Pittsburgh, in the second to give the Jets a 5-4 lead after 40 minutes.
Malkin started the second-period scoring by wristing a shot past Montoya's blocker 1:06 into the period to cut the Penguins' deficit to 2-1. He is now ninth in the NHL in scoring with 44 points.
Neal then scored two goals 34 seconds apart to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead 4:59 into the second. Neal received a pass from Kris Letang and snuck a wrist shot in between Montoya's blocker and the left post on his first goal before whipping a shot from the left boards that was deflected by Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian through Montoya's legs for his second of the afternoon.
"We fought back, got some big goals and [Fleury] made some big saves at the end," Neal said. "We need to clean some things up here, but we won the game. It can't always be pretty."
Pittsburgh's lead didn't last long. Blake Wheeler snapped a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury 1:03 later to tie the game, 3-3. The Penguins regained the lead with 8:22 left in the second when Jussi Jokinen wristed a shot through a screen from Neal to reestablish a one-goal Pittsburgh lead.
That lead didn't last either. After Brooks Orpik slipped with the puck at the point, Evander Kane collected it and raced toward the Penguins' net. He backhanded a shot past Fleury to tie the game, 4-4, with 3:29 left in the second. Kane scored off a backhand shot again with 17.8 seconds left to put the Jets up one goal entering the third.
"I think with a team like that, if you're trying to protect the lead, you're going to get eaten alive," Kane said. "We tried to do that in the second period and it was 2-2, [then] 3-2 for them. So we were having success and they weren't. We were playing in their end and playing on offense, so the mindset of playing defensively is sometimes that offense is the best defense. They could say the same thing."
A day after losing 4-1 against the Boston Bruins, the Jets seemed prepared to play in Pittsburgh.
Jacob Trouba scored the game's first goal 1:47 into the first period. Olli Jokinen sent a pass through Penguins forward Joe Vitale right to Trouba in between the faceoff circles. Trouba then wristed a shot past Fleury for a 1-0 Winnipeg lead.
The early goal marked the first time the Penguins had trailed at home since facing a 5-4 deficit in their 6-5 shootout win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 27.
"I think the big talk about our team in this run has been our start and how we come out in this building," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who tied Eddie Johnston for the Penguins' all-time franchise record of 232 coaching wins. "Today that wasn't the case. We didn't have that start and they had several good opportunities. But we came out after the first period and got back in it."
Pittsburgh took control of the action through the middle of the first, leading to a penalty shot for Sidney Crosby with 3:08 remaining in the period. After he was hooked by Mark Stuart while charging toward the Winnipeg net, Crosby drifted wide right and glided back toward the net but shot the puck wide to the left.
Mark Scheifele extended the Jets' lead with 3.9 seconds remaining in the first after Kane backhanded a pass into the middle of the offensive zone to the 20-year-old rookie, who sent a wrist shot past Fleury. But the Jets failed to hold the lead.
"[Pittsburgh is] one of the most talented teams in the League," Olli Jokinen said. "You can't try to outscore them. You have to try to find a way to play good defense and make sure you get the puck on their goal line and on a few goals they made us look pretty bad. But we're not the first team and we're not the last team they do that to."