As soon as the Pittsburgh Penguins' star learned about the devastating plane crash in his native Russia on Sept. 7 that killed 44 people, including most of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the Kontinental Hockey League, he was determined to help the families of those who lost their lives.
In Washington, Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin had exactly the same thought.
Both Malkin and Ovechkin have played with members of the Lokomotiv team, and knew some of their wives and family members. While both players contacted those they knew to express their sympathies -- "I told them I would be there for them," Malkin said -- they also wanted to do something for all of those involved.
As a result, two of the NHL's biggest rivals, the Capitals and Penguins, will team up Thursday night during their game at Consol Energy Center to raise money for the crash victims' families. The teams will wear commemorative Lokomotiv patches on their jerseys, which will be autographed and auctioned on NHL.com. The auction will run from Oct. 13-27.
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Following the Penguins' 4-2 victory over Florida on Tuesday, Malkin tweeted a picture of the bracelet, along with a message in Russian, on his newly created Twitter account.
"We were born in Russia. We know these guys," Malkin said. "We (played) with these guys on teams, the national team. We need to help their families because those are (our) guys."
When Malkin went to Penguins general manager Ray Shero and asked for the franchise's help in raising money, plans for the jersey auction quickly came together.
"I know Alex. We talked to him," Malkin said. "We had ideas to sell jerseys Oct. 13 and do an auction."
Shero said both organizations were determined to help.
"We compete against each other hard on the ice, but off the ice we all are part of one big hockey family," Shero said. "Many of our players had friends on the Lokomotiv team. All of us in hockey were touched by this tragic loss. We just thought this game was a unique opportunity for our two teams to work together to raise money for the children and families of the players, coaches and staff who lost their lives."
Malkin has talked in the past, even before this tragedy, of how close the Russian hockey community is. While top players are divided between the NHL and the KHL after they began their professional careers, many grew up playing alongside and against each other in youth hockey. As a result, they maintain relationships that last for decades, even when they are on opposing sides during the season.
Immediately after the crash, a deeply saddened Malkin made a video urging hockey fans in Russia not to forget those who died or the families they left behind.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby knows firsthand how devastating such a crash can be -- when he was 11, Swissair Flight 111 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia, not far from his home in Cole Harbour. All 229 passengers and crew members died.
Crosby recalls how numerous families in the area rushed to the aid of the European families who lost loved ones, taking them into their homes for weeks at a time at no charge in an effort to ease their pain.
"Geno knew some guys and family members and things like that that were involved with that, so we're aware of what he's doing and we're behind him 100 percent," Crosby said. "That's a great thing they're doing. We were all pretty saddened by that."
Malkin, who had a goal and an assist in two games, is hoping he can play in the 7 p.m. ET game that will televised by the NHL Network.
Malkin, who had surgery to repair two torn knee ligaments in February, has missed the Penguins' last two games with an undisclosed lower-body injury. He did skate Wednesday during an optional practice, and coach Dan Bylsma did not update his status for the game.
Crosby practiced, but still wore the white helmet signifying he has not been cleared for contact as he continues to mend from a concussion.
Washington brings a 2-0-0 record into the first of four regular-season meetings against Pittsburgh, which is 3-0-1. The two teams have built one of the NHL's best rivalries while meeting in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals and the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, among other high-profile matchups in recent seasons.