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Malkin, Penguins bludgeon Coyotes 6-1; Crosby extends points streak to 21 games

It looks like a little breather did Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins a lot of good.

Geno sat out a few games with a banged up knee and he suddenly looks like a changed man. Actually, scratch that; he looks like the Malkin of old. You know: the one whose superlative talents prompted Crosby haters to say that “Sidney isn’t even the best player on his own team.”

Since returning to action from that injury, Malkin is chipping in at an impressive pace. The talented Russian scored two goals and three assists in this game, giving him a three game points streak with five goals and three assists for eight points in that small span.

The time off clearly benefited Malkin, but Pittsburgh played like a team that was well-rested too. After reeling off an outstanding 12-game winning streak, the Penguins dropped back-to-back games to the Flyers and Rangers on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. Like a banged up NFL team getting a perfectly timed bye week, the Pens fired 38 shots on net and chased Jason LaBarbera from the Phoenix net.

Penguins 6, Phoenix 1

I decided to discuss Malkin’s hot return first because Sidney Crosby’s continued success almost makes me sound like a broken record. He extended his career-high points streak to 21 games with one goal and two assists against the helpless Coyotes.

Crosby now has a nice, clean run in that 21-game span: 21 goals and 21 assist for 42 points (for exactly two points per game). He now has 27 goals and 30 assists for 57 points on the season.

Fun facts: Dany Heatley is the only player with a longer points streak (22 games) in the post-lockout era while Mario Lemieux is the only Penguin with a longer streak all-time, although his two longest streaks will be tough to match at 28 and 46 games.

Marc-Andre Fleury continued his own hot streak (although he lost his winning streak) by earning a win with 26 for 27 save performance. LaBarbera was pulled for Matt Climie, who allowed one goal on 16 shots.

The Penguins still trail the Flyers (who were flattened by the Florida Panthers 5-0 tonight) by three points, so this wasn’t one of those nights in which the Atlantic Division power shifted. Still, it’s clear that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are going to duke it out for the top spot in the division for quite some time.

If Malkin can spell the better-than-Crosby on occasion, it’s going to be difficult for the Pronger-less Flyers to hold the Penguins off.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.