Justin K. Aller
The Penguins continued their run of success against the Southeast Division at home Friday, but a heavy fall into the boards took Evgeni Malkin off the ice in the third.
Pittsburgh outshot the Florida Panthers 40-23 Friday en route to a 3-1 win that moves them back atop the Eastern Conference pile, but the big story will be the status of Evgeni Malkin, who took a violent spill into the boards in the third and did not return to the game.
Malkin skated off the ice under his own power after colliding with the boards, but remained on the ice for some time before doing so. Replays showed Malkin's head snapping violently after hitting the boards in a full-speed slide, apparently striking the wall on the backlash of the hit.
The team offered little on Malkin's status following the game.
The Penguins were forced to jumble their lines following the hit, one which apparently awoke the team after trudging through some 45 minutes of mostly uninspired hockey.
Florida's Mike Weaver opened the scoring midway through the second period, but the Penguins quickly responded with a power play goal. Niskanen's game winner wouldn't come until nearly 20 minutes later despite stretches of incredible possession by the Penguins.
Niskanen's goal broke the tie just as a power play expired, his third of the season.
Jeffrey, playing in his first game in several weeks, iced the game with a late goal, his first of the season and first since April 2011.
Pittsburgh's 40 shots were a season high, but rookie netminder Jacob Markstrom stood tall for most of the night in his first start of the season.
Markstrom is among the top prospects in a faily stacked Florida system and played like it Friday. Florida recalled the rookie for the second of a Pennsylvania back-to-back series, and he earned the game's third star in stopping 37 of 40 shots against.
Opposite the rookie, Fleury's win put him into a tie for most goaltender victories in the NHL with nine. He has now won six of his last seven starts.
The Panthers beat the Flyers 5-2 on Thursday and had points in eight of their last ten, but walked out of CONSOL empty-handed. It was the Penguins' tenth consecutive home victory over the Panthers, who remain 13th in the East following the loss.
The Pens move back into a tie for first in the East with 24 points. While still in fourth due to head-to-head tiebreakers and winning percentages, Pittsburgh's 12 victories and 11 regulation/overtime wins are tops in the conference.
Pittsburgh's power play struck for the tenth straight game, with Kunitz earning a tough goal in front on assists from Malkin and James Neal. Neal now has 12 power play points this season.
The unit went 1-for-4 on the night.
Pittsburgh gets a day off before facing the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday evening at home. The Penguins will look to continue their home-ice dominance of Southeast teams, but may find it harder to do so if Malkin, who scored a number of highlight-reel goals against the Lightning last season, isn't available.