Sidney Crosby had two goals and an assist to lead Pittsburgh past the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 on Sunday night in the Penguins’ first game since NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin was injured.
Beau Bennett scored his first career goal on the power play to help Pittsburgh take over sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division. Matt Cooke and defenseman Paul Martin each had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who have won five of six to tie Montreal for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Malkin is out indefinitely after slamming back-first into the end boards during Friday night’s win over Florida. Malkin, whose head snapped back when he hit the boards, was re-evaluated over the weekend for a concussion.
James Neal, Malkin’s regular linemate, played alongside Crosby and Chris Kunitz against the Lightning. Neal is tied for second in the league in goals.
Steven Stamkos had a three-point night for Tampa Bay, with his 13th goal and two assists. Stamkos and John Tavares of the New York Islanders are tied for the NHL lead in goals.
Cory Conacher, the NHL’s leading scorer among rookies, and defenseman Eric Brewer also scored for the Lightning, who are tied with Carolina for first place in the Southeast Division.
Stamkos, with 29 points, is one ahead of Crosby for the NHL scoring lead.
Marc-Andre Fleury, tied for first in the league with 10 wins, won his fifth straight game.
Anders Lindback started in goal for the Lightning and allowed three first-period goals on 10 shots before he was replaced at the start of the second by Mathieu Garon.
Crosby faced the Lightning for the first time since absorbing a check into the glass from Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman two years ago. It was a hit that contributed to the concussion problems that plagued the Penguins’ captain, forcing him to miss the final 41 games of the regular season, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and most of last season as symptoms lingered.
Crosby put the Penguins ahead early with two goals less than 8 minutes into the game.
The first one came just 1:16 in. Crosby took a pass from Kunitz, skated alone down the left side and roofed a short-side wrist shot over Lindback’s shoulder from the faceoff dot.
Crosby’s second goal came 6 minutes later. Lindback had trouble trying to glove Martin’s shot from the point. Crosby got a stick on the puck, which bounced between Lindback’s legs and into the net after the Lightning goalie kicked it in.
Martin scored with 33 seconds left in the first period, tapping the rebound from Cooke’s initial shot into a partially empty net to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead.
The Lightning, after a dismal opening period, needed just 3:14 to score twice in the second.
Brewer got the first one 1:37 into the period on a tip-in from Stamkos, who followed it up by scoring the second – his fifth straight game with a goal – just 20 seconds into a two-man advantage.
Stamkos, with Pittsburgh’s Simon Despres and Craig Adams in the penalty box, wasted little time scoring on the power play, ripping a one-timer from the left side past Fleury to make it 3-2.
The Penguins regained a two-goal lead, scoring on their own two-man advantage. It was the 11th straight game in which they scored a power-play goal, and the first time in five games Tampa Bay allowed a goal with the man advantage.
Kris Letang rushed to keep the puck in the zone at the blue line, sending a spinning pass to Crosby, who set up Bennett’s first NHL goal, a one-timer past Garon.
Conacher scored 3:15 into the third period, one-touching Hedman’s pass past Fleury to make it 4-3. But the Lightning, whose 32 third-period goals rank No. 1 in the NHL, couldn’t forge a tie.