It was a day of streaks continued, as the Penguins won their ninth-consecutive game Sunday afternoon, landing five goals on a shorthanded Boston club. The final included three helpers from Evgeni Malkin, points 500, 501 and 502 of his career.
Malkin regained the NHL scoring lead with 84 points, James Neal broke a nine-game scoring slump and the Penguins moved to within two points of the New York Rangers (who play late Sunday) for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference leads.
"I just enjoy it, enjoy playing hockey and playing with my linemates," Malkin said after the game. "I think we did a great job today. It was a huge three goals and we won two points."
As for reaching the 500-point milestone?
"I don't know. It's a tough question, I don't think about my points now," Malkin said. "The playoffs are coming soon. I just enjoy playing the game, enjoy stepping on the ice every game, every practice. Big win today."
Malkin reached the 500-point mark in 413 NHL games, a career 1.22 point-per-game average. Sunday's milestone also makes him the fourth-fastest to the mark amongst active players. Only Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Teemu Selanne reached as many points in fewer games.
The three-assist afternoon put him at 84 points on the season, two ahead of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos in the race for the Art Ross Trophy.
Malkin's linemate James Neal added another touch to his career-best season, breaking an extended goalscoring slump by adding a power play goal in the first and two helpers to earn the game's first star. He reached career point number 200 on the same day as Malkin's 500th.
Can Pittsburgh catch the Rangers?
The Penguins also topped their previous season-best eight-game win streak with Sunday's victory. A win Thursday in MSG will match the Bruins' ten-game winning streak for the longest of the NHL season.
Since breaking a six-game losing streak that stretched from December 2011 into early January, the Penguins are 21-4-1 and have win streaks of eight and nine games over that span. No team in the NHL has as many points since January 13.
Jordan Staal extended his career-best points streak to eight games with a helper on Pascal Dupuis' breakaway goal late in the third period, and Marc-Andre Fleury added to his personal win-streak with his eighth victory in a row.
At 37-14-3, Fleury moved to within one win of Nashville's Pekka Rinne for the NHL lead amongst goaltenders. He's three wins shy of his second career 40-win season and improved his sparkling career April record to 47-16-9.
"I feel good. Been on a good roll here, beating some good teams along the way," Fleury said.
He should feel good. Flower is just seven wins shy of topping Tom Barrasso's franchise record for single-season wins (43), and six back of the Pens' mark for all-time victories (226). One more shutout will give him the standalone mark at 23, as well.
At the rate they're currently going, Fleury should have no trouble reaching those marks with 14 games remaining. The Boston win put Pittsburgh at 1-0-0 in the first of a daunting stretch of games that includes dates with the Rangers, Devils and Flyers.
Of the remaining fourteen games, only four come against non-playoff opponents. Two of those opponents outside the bubble are Winnipeg and Buffalo—both just two points outside the top-eight.
The winning streak is impressive, but Pittsburgh can make a bigger statement by continuing the success through a decidedly stiff end of their schedule and pulling ahead of the Rangers for the Conference's best record.
"You're not always worried about the score," Dan Bylsma said, "you're just trying to make a statement with the way you play, and I thought we did that a lot."
All quotes obtained from Jason Seidling and Pittsburgh Penguins, used with permission