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Round 2

Evgeni Malkin expected to step up for Penguins

Pittsburgh center becomes focal point against Capitals with Sidney Crosby out because of concussion

by Wes Crosby / Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Without Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins are prepared to lean on forward Evgeni Malkin.

Crosby will miss Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Washington Capitals after being diagnosed with a concussion, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Tuesday. Following Game 4, Crosby will be evaluated and considered day to day, Sullivan said.

The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The concussion was the result of a cross-check from Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen 5:24 into the first period of Pittsburgh's 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3 on Monday.


[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Penguins series coverage]


Following the game, Malkin was seen skating by himself at PPG Paints Arena, and also took part in Pittsburgh's optional practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex on Tuesday, but didn't speak to the media afterward.

Instead, Malkin's teammates spoke for him.

"He's skating. He does things with the puck like no one else," forward Patric Hornqvist said. "It looks like he's playing loose. He's a hell of a player."

Malkin leads the NHL with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in eight Stanley Cup Playoffs games. His 72 points and 33 goals was second on the Penguins to Crosby (89 points, 44 goals) during the regular season despite missing 20 games because of various injuries.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Malkin hammers one-timer by Holtby

This won't be Malkin's first time playing a leading role with Crosby injured. In 2011-12, when Crosby played 22 games because of a concussion, Malkin had an NHL career-high 50 goals, and his 109 points were the second-most he's had in his 11 seasons. He also won the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy.

"I just think [Malkin is] an elite player and he has that ability," Sullivan said on Malkin's ability to raise his game in the absence of Crosby. "He's been a very good player for us throughout the course of these playoffs and we're going to rely on him that much more. And we believe he'll get the job done for us.

"I don't think the burden of responsibility falls on him solely. I think it's a collective effort. That's the essence of a team. But [Malkin] is going to have to bring his very best game to help us win."

When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 games.

In 132 career playoff games, Malkin has 144 points (52 goals, 92 assists) for an average of 1.09 points per game. He's averaging 1.88 points per game during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs despite missing the final 13 games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury.

Malkin returned against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round and had two assists. He has at least one point in seven of eight playoff games including six multipoint games. That includes Game 3 against the Capitals, when he scored with 1:53 remaining in the third period and then assisted on Justin Schultz's goal 48 seconds later to tie the game at 2-2 and force overtime.

The Penguins know they can rely on Malkin, but they also want Malkin to know he can rely on them.

"We can't just put the weight of our team on [Malkin]," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "We've got to do it as a team, but it will be fun to watch [Malkin], though, knowing him, knowing what he can do out there. He's a dominant player also and I'm really looking forward to seeing him go tomorrow."

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