UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Trailing 3-2 late in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Islanders, center Evgeni Malkin's struggles typified what had been a lackluster Pittsburgh Penguins effort through two-and-a-half periods.
Until the latter stages of the third period Saturday, Malkin had been prone to giveaways, had registered one shot, and was on the ice for two of the Islanders' three goals. Then, with a chance to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the line, Malkin did what many great players do: He took over the game with a single play.
With the Penguins in the midst of a line change, Malkin sped down the right wing alone. Initiating what was a 1-on-4 rush, Malkin sped by practically the entire Islanders team to behind the net before feeding Paul Martin, who cranked a shot past goalie Evgeni Nabokov to tie the game 3-3. Then, 7:49 into overtime, Malkin earned the secondary assist on Brooks Orpik's series-clinching goal.
"That's why he's one of the best in the League. He's able to hold onto the puck and get guys coming after him. It looks like he's got his head down but he's able to find a way and find guys who are open," Martin said of Malkin. "When he gets control of the puck and uses his body to create good positioning and lug it around, other guys get open for him. If he's going like that, that's big for us."
It was a validating finish for someone who had difficulty generating chances for much of the game. He certainly wasn't the only Penguins player to make those kinds of mistakes, but they seem more glaring when they are made by one of the world's marquee players.
"I think we got into some issues in the first two periods-and-a-half," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Their forecheck caused turnovers. We saw that on all their goals and we saw that with Geno's line and with turnovers. Not just by Evgeni, but that happened to our team.
"Then in the third period, it got a lot more to our game. We started pressing and getting into the offensive zone and we had some good shifts and good opportunities. We ended up getting a play by Evgeni where he's really all by himself."
It was Martin's shot that tied the game, but the play likely doesn't happen without a patented Malkin rush that broke down the Islanders defense, leaving Martin with plenty of time and space. And just like that, any prior mistakes Malkin may have made up to that point were forgotten.
"That's what special players do. Geno's a special player. They make special plays," Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said. "They rise to the occasion and it showed tonight that our best players were our best players to win the game."