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Malkin scores twice to reach 20 goals for the 15th time as Penguins edge Columbus 3-2

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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Vladimir and Natalia Malkin took the long flight from Russia to Pittsburgh for the first time in several years this week.

Their arrival gave their son some serious juice.

Evgeni Malkin’s only wish is that they could have made it back to western Pennsylvania sooner.

The Penguins star scored twice to reach the 20-goal plateau for the 15th time and Pittsburgh extended its mastery over the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 3-2 win on Thursday night.

The Russian became the 31st player in league history to score 20 goals in 15 seasons, doing it with a pair of power-play blasts — one from the right circle, one from the left circle — that erased one-goal deficits, much to the delight of his parents.

“I think yeah, they give me a little bit more motivation,” Malkin said.

The Penguins will take it any way they can get it as they try to keep their dim playoff hopes alive. Pittsburgh has won two straight as it remains on the extreme fringe of the Eastern Conference wild-card chase with 10 games to play.

The Malkins get up in the early morning hours in Magnitogorsk, Russia to watch their son play. And now, they’re not particularly thrilled with how this season has gone for the Penguins.

“They know everything,” Malkin said. “And of course not happy (with) how we play all year, I mean … they want (us to) make playoffs for sure.”

It is an unlikely prospect, though Pittsburgh is hoping for one last push in the season’s final weeks.

Drew O’Conner’s 12th goal 35 seconds into the third period put Pittsburgh in front to stay. Sidney Crosby had two assists for the Penguins to boost his career total to 995, 11th on the NHL’s career list. The longtime captain also has nine points in Pittsburgh’s last three games.

“We just need to keep going,” Crosby said. “It’s one of those things you’ve got to keep learning with every game and making sure that we’re trying to get better here.”

Alex Nedeljkovic stopped 17 shots for Pittsburgh, which improved to 21-3-2 in its last 26 meetings with the Blue Jackets.

Mathieu Olivier and Cole Sillinger scored for Columbus, which has lost six in a row. Daniil Tarasov made 33 saves but the Blue Jackets finished a winless five-game road trip by falling to Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Arena for the 15th straight time.

“We haven’t won in this barn in however many years,” Sillinger said. “We had a good opportunity tonight. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the job done. It’s frustrating.”

While the Penguins have maintained they are still pressing toward the postseason, they’ve also made a point to bring up youngsters like forward Sam Poulin — a first-round pick in 2019 — to give the roster a jolt down the stretch.

Still, Pittsburgh largely goes as its stars go. Crosby remains a force in his 19th season, the 37-year-old Malkin has shown signs of slowing. His shot, however, remains a threat.

Olivier gave Columbus its first lead when he batted the puck over Nedeljkovic’s left shoulder 5:20 into the second period, a call that stood after a lengthy review for a high stick.

Malkin evened it a little over four minutes later but Sillinger responded at 13:11 when he finished off a three-on-one with a one-timer from in close.

Columbus, however, couldn’t find a way to make it hold up. Malkin tied it by biding his time in the left circle then beating a sprawled Tarasov, setting the stage for the Penguins to pull away.

“Well obviously he scores a couple of goals, that’s huge for Geno and big for the team,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “Hopefully that will give him a boost of confidence moving forward.”

UP NEXT

Blue Jackets: Will try to end their skid against the Penguins at home on Saturday night.

Penguins: Will look for the first three-game winning streak in over a month on the back end of their home-and-home with the Blue Jackets.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer

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