Richard Park scored the go-ahead goal 2:23 into the third period, Evgeni Malkin padded the lead with two, and workhorse Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves to give the suddenly hot Pittsburgh Penguins a 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
Park finished a crisp, three-way passing play with Matt Cooke and Deryk Engelland that worked right-to-left across the Rangers zone, and beat Henrik Lundqvist with a shot inside the left post. Park has four goals this season, but two in three games since an 11-game absence because of a broken foot.
Malkin scored with 12:50 remaining to make it 3-1, turning a giveaway by Marc Staal into a backhander under the crossbar, and added an empty-netter with 1:40 left. Malkin has 24 goals this season, including seven in four games.
Fleury played in his 19th straight game for the Penguins, who have won four in a row following a six-game skid. Chris Kunitz gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period.
Carl Hagelin scored New York's lone goal, and Lundqvist made 32 saves for the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers, 2-3 since a 10-1 spurt. This was their first game since a win over Nashville on Tuesday prompted team owner James Dolan to suggest the Rangers (29-12-4) were "pretty close" to the Stanley Cup title.
New York tied it 1-1 at 10:06 of the second period on Hagelin's eighth goal. Hagelin received a perfect backhanded pass from Marian Gaborik, who was on the right wing boards. Hagelin took the puck as he glided into the left circle and shoved a shot that squeezed slowly between Fleury's pads.
Each team received its first power play in the second, but neither took advantage.
The Penguins, who have been hit hard by injuries to captain Sidney Crosby, forward Jordan Staal, and others, got good news with the return of defenseman Kris Letang. Letang had missed 21 games since sustaining a concussion on Nov. 26 at Montreal.
The Rangers started out sluggish and sloppy, and the Penguins took advantage 3:16 in on Kunitz's 14th goal.
Right after Ruslan Fedotenko missed a chance to shove the puck in at the left post off a feed from Ryan Callahan, the Penguins transitioned quickly.
Kunitz found defenseman Paul Martin streaking down the middle of the ice and fed a perfect pass to him from the right wing boards. Martin came in alone on Lundqvist and got off a shot that made a loud thud against Lundqvist's pad. The crowd cheered the save, but that was premature as Kunitz got to the rebound in the slot and put a shot under the crossbar.
New York snapped out of its funk over the second half of the period, perhaps inspired by a fight between Stu Bickel and Pittsburgh's Eric Tangradi at 8:56. The shots were 8-0 Pittsburgh then, but closed to 8-6 over the next few minutes.
The Rangers recorded their first good scoring opportunity with 10:42 left in the first, an in-close chance by Brandon Dubinsky. New York's best scoring chance of the period came 17 seconds later when defenseman Mark Staal deflected a pass from Brad Richards in front for the Rangers' first shot, but it was denied by Fleury.
Less than a minute later, defenseman Dan Girardi fired a shot off a rebound that Fleury knocked away with a lunging upward thrust of his glove. That left Girardi with his head raised to the ceiling in disbelief.
NOTES: Penguins RW Arron Asham missed his second straight game. ... Fleury played in 20 consecutive games from Dec. 18, 2008, until Jan. 30 2009. ... Kunitz scored for just the second time in 12 games. ... The Rangers were 0 for 2 on the power play, making them 0 for 14 in seven games and 2 for 35 in 15, dating to Dec. 20 against New Jersey. ... D Ben Lovejoy came out of the Penguins lineup to make room for Letang, who assisted on Malkin's goal. Lovejoy scored his lone goal this season against the Rangers on Jan. 6.