To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game on Wednesday nights. For this week, we are trying to determine which superstar Russian center will have the biggest effect on his team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings.
It's been a star-crossed season for Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. Injuries have taken their toll on the superstar centers. But as the Stanley Cup Playoffs approach, each are doing what they can to positively impact their team.
Datsyuk returned to the lineup April 4 after a five-week absence to allow an injury to his right knee to heal and will use the last days of the regular season to fine-tune his game for the postseason.
Malkin continues to work his way back from a broken foot sustained March 23 against the St. Louis Blues. The team hopes Malkin is ready for the first game of the postseason, but that remains to be seen.
At full strength, Malkin and Datsyuk are game-breakers that have the ability to carry a team to a Stanley Cup. But will one of them have more of an effect on their team?
Malkin hasn't been able to put out his best effort in the regular season due to injuries sidelining him for 19 games and counting. He's still produced when healthy, with 23 goals and 72 points in 60 games.
Where Malkin always has showcased himself is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In six playoff seasons, he's hit double-figures in points four times and scored at least 10 goals twice.
Malkin has been at his best in the Penguins' two deepest runs. In 2007-08, his second time through the postseason, he had 10 goals and 22 points in 20 games, and his three game-winning goals were tied for third in the League when the Penguins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final. In Game 6 of the Final against the Detroit Red Wings, he scored the Penguins' first goal and set up their second in a 3-2 loss.
One year later he was even better. He was second in the League with 14 goals, and his League-leading 36 points are the seventh all-time for one playoff season, and the most any player has scored since Wayne Gretzky had 40 points in the 1993 playoffs. He had two goals and six assists in seven games against the Red Wings in the Cup Final, and his effort earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the postseason.
Malkin was a point-per-game scorer in the 2013 playoffs, finishing with 16 points in 15 games, tying Kris Letang for the team lead.
In 83 playoff games, Malkin has 36 goals, including eight game-winners, and 97 points.
There was a time in Datsyuk's career that he was seen as a player unable to turn his game up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Those days are long gone, however.
Datsyuk had three goals in 21 games as a rookie when the Red Wings won the 2002 Stanley Cup. Those were the only goals he scored in his first four playoff seasons, however, and in his first 42 playoff games he had three goals and 12 points.
He began to shake his playoff label during Detroit's run to the 2007 Western Conference Final. He had eight goals in 18 games, including two in the third period of Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks to get the Red Wings within one goal in a game they ended up losing.
The following season was Datsyuk's best. He was third on the team with 10 goals and his 23 points were second to Henrik Zetterberg. He scored the winning goal in the Red Wings' Game 6 win against the Dallas Stars to close the Western Conference Final, and after being shut out in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins, he had four points in the final three games as the Wings won the Cup. In the Cup-clinching win in Game 6, he had two assists, including the primary one on Zetterberg's winning goal.
In 140 playoff games, Datsyuk has 103 points, eighth among active players. Though his playoff career scoring average of 0.73 points per game is impressive, his past seven trips to the postseason have been outstanding, with 88 points in 98 games for a 0.90 points-per-game average.
Malkin and Datsyuk have proven to be major playoff performers during their stellar careers. Datsyuk will be relied upon more with Zetterberg unlikely to play after back surgery, but the health of his knee will go a long way toward determining what kind of performance he's able to have. Malkin likely will have a bigger impact on the Penguins' fortunes when he returns to his usual role as second-line center. With Sidney Crosby playing on a different line, Malkin won't see the same level of competition, which could allow him to flourish.
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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