PITTSBURGH - Evgeni Malkin can do two things nicely. He can play keep-away with the puck. And he can fire a laser wrist shot that freezes a goalie as it burns the net.
Malkin's 47th goal Wednesday night at Mellon Arena doomed the Flyers to a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With two games remaining, the Flyers still have not clinched a playoff berth.
During a second-period Penguins power play, Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made a splendid shorthanded pad stop against Sami Kapanen. On the regroup, Malkin took a pass from Ryan Whitney off the boards from a standing position, then sped into the Flyers' zone and buried a shot against Martin Biron to break a 2-2 tie.
It was the game's most critical play, especially coming seconds after Fleury's save. It changed momentum amid a tense, playoff-style atmosphere.
"Obviously, their power play and special teams were the difference, because they capitalized on their power plays and we didn't," Flyers center Mike Richards said. "Lupes [Joffey Lupul] and I said it. It was like a playoff game. Usually, special teams are the difference in the playoffs, and it was tonight."
Pittsburgh started the night just 1 for 17 on the power play in its last three games, but it scored four times on the Flyers (1 for 5).
"They got a puck off our guy in the first, a five-on-three goal in the second, a goal I would want back, and then [Sidney] Crosby makes a great deflection at the end - four totally different goals," Biron said. "They have the personnel" to do that.
Biron made outstanding saves to keep it a one-goal game in the third period before Crosby's between-the-legs redirected shot for the final power-play goal helped the Penguins clinch the Atlantic Division crown.
"We've got two games left," Flyers center Jeff Carter said. "We've got to pull out a couple of wins."
The game featured two early fights and fierce contact throughout.
"We had two penalties on one play there, and it certainly wasn't in our favor," Flyers coach John Stevens said about a couple of second-period power-play goals. "Their power play was the difference. They have a very dangerous power play. They get that many opportunities [six], it's not good for us."
Neither is this: Late in the game, center Danny Briere took a left knee-on-knee hit from Jarkko Ruutu.
"I tried to go inside, and he stuck his leg out there," Briere said. "I didn't realize it was him coming. Everyone knows he's one of the dirtiest players in the league. If I would have had time to look and see it was him, I would have protected myself better."
Kimmo Timonen missed most of the second period after being hit by a shot on the left ankle. Both players said they would play tomorrow against New Jersey.
The Flyers went into the game needing a victory and a Carolina loss in regulation against Tampa Bay to clinch a playoff berth.
"I didn't know that," winger Mike Knuble said before the game, adding that most of the team didn't know it, either. It didn't matter: Carolina won, 6-2.
The Flyers did score first. Scott Hartnell got things going with his 24th goal at 8 minutes, 58 seconds with a shot from the right slot that cleanly beat Fleury.
It took the Penguins less than two minutes to tie it after a penalty by Carter, who knocked Hal Gill into Fleury to draw a roughing call. Sergei Gonchar took a pass across the blue line, skated in a few steps, than unleashed a wrister that Biron couldn't see because Braydon Coburn was screening him.
Coburn and Carter helped get that one back with the Flyers' only power-play goal. Coburn's shot in the high slot hit Lupul in the crease. Carter quickly found the rebound before Fleury did, scoring his 29th goal at 13:13.
Tempers flared in the second period. Hartnell took the butt end of Gonchar's stick to the face, with no call. It set Hartnell off for several shifts and he accrued back-to-back minors, giving Pittsburgh a five-on-three advantage.
"Someone jumped on me, they were whacking away at our goalie, and you have to be able to protect your goalie in this league," Hartnell said. "I was just trying to push my way out and it put us down two men."
Pittsburgh scored two more power-play goals - one during a five-on-three - in the second period to regain the lead, 3-2.
Crosby tied the game with a one-timer from the right circle during the Pens' two-man advantage. Malkin made it 3-2 after Fleury's clutch shorthanded save at the other end.
"It was a battle the whole game, one of the closest you can get to a playoff atmosphere and kind of crazy," Hartnell said. "Right down to the wire."