PITTSBURGH -- Reigning MVP Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night after missing four games with an injury. He looked like his normal self, scoring what was perhaps the NHL's most spectacular goal of the season in helping the Penguins earn a 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"He looked really good, I think, for a first game back. I don't know if he was doing any stick handling while we were gone (on the road trip), but it looked pretty sharp," said Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins opened the scoring at 4:13 of the first when Crosby masterfully protected the puck along the boards drawing two defenders toward him, which left Chris Kunitz open in the high slot for a one-timer that he blasted past Lightning netminder Mathieu Garon for his 12th goal of the season.
"I'm just trying to find some soft areas and shoot the puck," Kunitz said. "It's nice that it's going in."
That goal would account for all of the scoring in the first period as the Penguins took a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
Pittsburgh went on the man-advantage just 15 seconds into the second and had several quality chances, but Garon was equal to the task. However, he had to leave the game soon after the power play expired due to what appeared to be a lower body injury.
Anders Lindback came on in relief.
Moments after the goaltending change, Steven Stamkos knotted the game at 1 when he pushed a Victor Hedman pass into an open cage at 2:39 of the period for his league-leading 16th goal.
Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury had cheated toward Hedman who faked a shot and then passed across to Stamkos for the easy tap-in.
The next two goals of the game came in far different fashions.
The Lightning took a 2-1 lead when Nate Thompson flipped a weak wrist shot toward the net that deflected off the face of teammate Tom Pyatt and fluttered over Fleury.
On the other end of the spectrum was the goal Malkin scored to knot the game at 2.
In what will probably be replayed on highlight reels and remembered for a long time, Malkin came with speed toward the net and slid himself and the puck between a diving Eric Brewer, a back-checking Matthew Carle and a poke-checking Lindback. He picked up the puck on the other side and shoveled it into a wide-open net, as Lindback was out of position.
The play resulted from a turnover at the blue line that didn't go unnoticed by Lightning head coach Guy Boucher.
"We just turned it over at our blue line. We gave Malkin the puck at our blue line; might as well just put the gun to our heads. That's just unacceptable for us."
Less than two minutes later, the Penguins retook the lead when Kris Letang, down from his point position, circled behind the net with the puck, curled out from below the goal line and threw a pass across to Crosby in the right circle, who dropped down to one knee to fire a one-timer past Lindback for his 11th goal of the season.
"In very short order, you see two displays of skill and offense and turn the game quickly from being down in the third period to coming back and being ahead in the third period," said Penguins' head coach Dan Bylsma.
James Neal added an empty-net goal with 51 seconds remaining in the contest to give Pittsburgh a 4-2 lead.
While Neal's goal seemed to be icing on the cake at the time, it proved to be critical because the Lightning struck again with just eight seconds left in the contest when Stamkos batted in his second goal of the game out of mid-air, but it would prove to be too little, too late sending the Lightning to its fifth consecutive loss.
"It's tough," Stamkos said. "We didn't think we'd be in this position after the way we started the year. We're in it now. We can't change what's in the past. We have to salvage a point tomorrow somehow. We have to get a point at least."
NOTES: The game featured the NHL's two highest scoring teams. Going into Monday night, the Penguins had scored 76 goals in 22 games and the Lightning had tallied 73 goals in 21 games. ... With his first-period goal, Kunitz recorded a point in a career-best sixth consecutive game. ... Tampa Bay is winless in its last six trips to Pittsburgh. The Lightning's last victory in Pittsburgh was March 31, 2010. ... Pittsburgh assigned rookie left winger Beau Bennett to its AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton prior to the game. ... The Penguins scratches were Paul Martin, Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Boychuk. Scratches for the Lightning were Brendan Mikkelson and Marc-Andre Bergeron. ... Pittsburgh's next game will be Thursday at Philadelphia. Tampa Bay will next play Tuesday at New Jersey.