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Round 2

Evgeni Malkin of Penguins content with avoiding spotlight

Forward prefers focus stays on Sidney Crosby, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin in second round

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin sometimes seems forgotten when facing the Washington Capitals.

That's fine by him. He knows the spotlight will fall on Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin.

"I like to be quiet," Malkin said. "I just try not to be quiet on the ice."

At this point, Malkin prefers the attention to go elsewhere. That's the way it's always been and, Malkin realizes, that's the way it likely will always be. It won't change when the Penguins play the Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Verizon Center on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2).

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins-Capitals series coverage]

 

After practice Wednesday, Malkin was asked if the rivalry is viewed any differently in his home country of Russia than it is in North America. Maybe there, the focus would fall more on Malkin and Ovechkin.

Malkin let out a slight chuckle.

"It's the same. It's the same," Malkin said. "It's good for me. I try to be quiet. I just try to play. I read a lot about Sid and Ovi, you know? They started the same year. They played for the Calder Trophy. They're always the best two players in the [NHL], but I try to show my best game."

Though Crosby and Ovechkin deserve the spotlight, Malkin could quietly steal the show.

"[Malkin] has been one of the best players in the League since he came in," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "He's a huge asset to our team. If he would rather be left out of it, then Sid only has to deal with it. So, that's a good thing for [Malkin]."

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm3: Malkin scores with help from Rust

Malkin's ability to change a game, or even a series, was displayed in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. After missing 13 games with an upper-body injury, Malkin returned in Game 1 to help Pittsburgh eliminate Columbus in five games. He leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 11 points (two goals, nine assists).

Despite missing 20 regular-season games, Malkin was second on the Penguins with 33 goals and 72 points behind Crosby, who had 44 and 89.

"I know my best game can help the team to win," Malkin said. "I understand that. I'm an important part of this team. I try to score every game, but sometimes [I do], sometimes not. I'm ready. I feel great.

"I'm feeling amazing right now. No injury. Just ready to play. I know it's not easy."

Facing the Capitals hasn't been easy in the past either, but that hasn't stopped Malkin from averaging 1.42 points per game against Washington in 36 regular-season games.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm2: Malkin slams Crosby's feed into cage

Malkin has 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in those games. That's nearly on par with Crosby's 60 points (20 goals, 40 assists) in 41 games against Washington and equal to Ovechkin's 51 points (30 goals, 21 assists) in 48 games against Pittsburgh.

Ovechkin was the most effective of the three in the second round during the 2016 playoffs despite the Capitals losing the best-of-7 series 4-2. He had seven points (two goals, five assists) while Malkin (one goal, one assist) and Crosby (two assists) each had two points.

That could be why Malkin refused to describe the upcoming series as fun.

"It's not fun. It's playoffs. Come on," Malkin said. "I'm nervous. I think everyone's nervous. It's not easy. … I'm excited, but it's not fun. I'm still a little nervous, but I want to play. It's a big challenge for me and a big challenge for the team."

Malkin might be all business entering the second round, but he at least admitted he still enjoys facing Ovechkin.

"It's not just Alex, it's like [Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov]," Malkin said. "It's a good challenge against me. … I can't wait and it's special. It's special to play against Washington and Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. They're good two guys and we're friends with each other, but it's a big challenge for me." 

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