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Malkin injured but Penguins prevail

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins skated away with a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers in Pittsburgh on Friday.

However, the talk after the game was centered on reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin, who went crashing into the end boards at a high rate of speed after being knocked off the puck by Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson early in the third period.

The impact caused Malkin's neck to violently snap back. He skated off under his own power and did not return after lying on the ice for more than a minute. He will be re-evaluated Saturday.

"I just finished my check," Gudbranson said. "He was in a vulnerable position but you can't pass up a hit like that. It's unfortunate he got hurt but it's one I'll take every time."

James Neal went after Gudbranson after the hit, but he was not penalized.

"Tough hit," said Neal. "It's a dangerous spot, the way he goes in. I hope he's OK."

The first period was relatively uneventful. The lone statistic that stood out was the rather lopsided shots on goal that favored the Penguins 12-3.

The Panthers finally broke the stalemate at 8:25 of the second when Mike Weaver fired a point shot over the stick-side shoulder of Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury. The goal was his first of the season with Brian Campbell picking up the lone assist.

The Penguins quickly answered with a power-play tally from Chris Kunitz at 10:41 of the second. Kunitz was able to jam a loose puck past Florida netminder Jacob Markstrom after digging for the rebound in his pads. It was Kunitz's seventh goal of the season and marked the 10th consecutive game that the Penguins recorded a power-play goal.

"We might not get a goal in this game if it's not for him going to the cage and getting that kind of goal," said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma.

Florida coach Kevin Dineen had a differing viewpoint of the goal.

"A non-call on us when a guy attacks Gudbranson after a clean hit and then they scored a goal when they go down and whack at our goalie three times," he said. "(Markstrom) goes down and he doesn't blow the whistle and that's really disappointing for us."

Malkin and Neal picked up assists on the goal, making them first and second, respectively, in the NHL in power play points.

The score remained tied 1-1 going into the third.

Several minutes after losing Malkin, the Penguins went ahead for good at 7:49 of the third when Matt Niskanen blasted a shot from the point past Markstrom for his third of the season.

The Penguins added to their lead with a goal from Dustin Jeffrey at 15:15 when he tapped in a slick cross-crease pass from Matt Cooke. The goal was Jeffrey's first of the season. Jeffrey had been a healthy scratch in all but four of the Penguins' previous games.

"He's kind of been in and out of the lineup, so for him to come in and step up and score a goal for us ... It's always nice to see those guys rewarded," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.

Notes: Markstrom made his season debut and ninth career NHL appearance. ... Going into the game, the Penguins had lost just 11 man games to injury, compared to the Panthers' 46. ... The three shots the Penguins yielded in the first period marked their fewest allowed this season. ... Florida RW Alex Kovalev needs one assist to reach 600 for his career. ... The game marked the 262nd consecutive sellout for the Penguins. ... Center Joe Vitale, left wing Zach Boychuk and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo were scratched for Pittsburgh, while goalie Scott Clemmensen and right wings Kris Versteeg and George Parros were scratched for Florida. ... The next game for both teams is Sunday. The Penguins will host the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida will host the Boston Bruins.
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