Wednesday's Three Stars: Malkin's OT clincher tops Vanek's trick

No. 1 star: Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Malkin gets to the nod for starting a miraculous comeback and then finishing it with 16 seconds left in overtime. Pittsburgh looked awful, getting down 3-0 to Ryan Malone and the Tampa Bay Lightning after two periods. Malkin scored at 2:22 of the third to give the team some life, assisted on Petr Sykora's game-tying power-play goal at 16:31 (after Matt Cooke drew a penalty from Gary Roberts, who later said Cooke is "famous for diving and he's never really played with any honor") and then scored the game-winner in OT on a quick shot from a Jordan Staal pass -- and with Malone attempting to stick-check him. Malkin's animated celebration of the 4-3 win saw him hurl his stick down the ice and jump into the glass. As long as there are no repercussions for his hit on Andrej Meszaros, it was quite a night for the Penguins star.

No. 2 star: Thomas Vanek, Buffalo Sabres

The only justification for a guy with a natural hat trick and a four-point night not getting first star is that the Sabres didn't need it -- the Toronto Maple Leafs were giving away odd-man rushes like samples at Costco, and Vanek's trick came after Buffalo built a 2-0 lead. That isn't to take away from a brilliant effort, including an emphatic second goal ripped past goalie Justin Pogge (27 saves) during the 5-0 embarrassment of the Leafs. In fact, it was Vanek's fourth consecutive natural hat trick, matching Cy Denneny's record from between 1923 and 1924 with Ottawa. Cool.

No. 3 star: Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild

Shutout No. 6 for the Wild goalie, stopping 34 Anaheim Ducks shots in the 3-0 victory. Backstrom stopped 25 shots in the final two periods, including 14 in the third. This one will help his steady climb to the top of the GAA standings and the Wild move into sixth in the West. 


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Honorable Mention: Nicklas Lidstrom's power-play goal off of Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Ken Klee gave the Detroit Red Wings a fugly 5-4 win at home. Marian Hossa had two goals; the second coming on a brilliant individual effort in the offensive zone. ... David Krejci and Dennis Wideman scored 35 seconds apart in the third period, and Tim Thomas made 25 saves in the Boston Bruins' 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. ... Andrew Brunette, Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard each had a two-point night for the Wild. ... Ryan Miller made 16 saves for his second consecutive shutout, while Drew Stafford had a goal of the year candidate for the Sabres:

Dishonorable Mention: The Leafs were so bad tonight in front of Pogge that it was borderline sadistic. ... The flu robbed us of a good tilt between the Bruins and Flyers, as Mike Richards, Braydon Coburn and Scottie Upshall were all sickly scratches. ... Wayne Gretzky was irate over the late-game hooking call on Joel Perrault that gave Detroit its eventual game-winning power-play goal, because no penalties were called on Red Wings hooks just before it. Said Ed Jovanovski: "There were two penalties missed before that in the corner. He calls that, it's embarrassing. We're fighting for our lives here. That's a big point for us." ... Finally, dishonorable mention to the Pittsburgh Penguins for allowing Steelers kicker Jeff Reed to look 1,000-percent better than they did tonight with that wicked Mario sweater. Even with the aging rock star hair:

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