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Malkin eager for fresh start in playoffs with Penguins

Enters series against Islanders with something to prove after 'not a great year for me'

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- Evgeni Malkin has something to prove in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 32-year-old center enters his 13th postseason after having a relatively unremarkable season for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was fourth on the Penguins with 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) but led them with 89 penalty minutes and was a team-worst minus-25.

However, Malkin knows that won't matter if the Penguins do one thing.

"If we win the Cup, everyone forgets the regular season," Malkin said. "That's what I think right now."

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs Penguins series coverage]

 

The Penguins will start their quest for a third Stanley Cup championship in four years when they play the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference First Round. The best-of-7 series begins with Game 1 at Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, MSG+, ATTSN-PT).

"We have a second chance right now," Malkin said. "It was not a great year for me, for sure, but now you can change everything. The team gave me like a second chance. ... Now I need to help the team, for sure.

"I can do better. My line, myself. I'm not happy, for sure, with my year. I've had injuries. I'm like minus-25. I don't know. Now everything is zero."

Coming into the series, Malkin has six assists during a nine-game goal drought; it's his longest since he failed to score in the final 10 games of the 2014-15 season. The Penguins were eliminated in five games of their first-round series by the New York Rangers, and Malkin did not have a point.

Malkin's last goal came in a 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on March 2. He missed eight games from March 17-April 2 with an upper-body injury before returning for the final two games of the regular season.

Video: PIT@MTL: Malkin cranks home PPG through traffic

Before the injury, sustained in the first period of a 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on March 16, Malkin had 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) in his previous 29 games.

"He has such high expectations of himself," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "Obviously, we have high expectations of him also. I do think [Malkin's] game is growing and getting better, and moving in the right direction. It was unfortunate when he got hurt because we felt his game was trending really well right before he got hurt.

"To have a couple of games under his belt, I think is going to help him moving forward. I know he's excited about the opportunity that we have in front of us, and he has a chance to be a big part of it. He's an elite player. He, potentially, can be a difference maker. I think he's going to have a terrific playoffs for us."

With Malkin back, the Penguins are nearly fully healthy entering the first round. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin (lower body) and forward Zach Aston-Reese (lower body) each practiced for the first time Monday and remain day to day.

Malkin centered the second line between left wing Jared McCann and right wing Patric Hornqvist at practice. That's a change from Saturday, when he was second-line center with Bryan Rust at left wing and Phil Kessel at right wing in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers.

Hornqvist gave a succinct answer when asked if there's ever a reason to worry about Malkin.

"He's got three Cups," Hornqvist said. "I don't know how many guys in the League have three Cups. He's a top player in the world."

To Hornqvist's point, Malkin has been a vital piece of each of those three runs.

Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy after having 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 2009, and he had 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 2017. He was a bit quieter in 2016 with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists), but had three points (two goals, one assist) in the final three games of the Cup Final against the San Jose Sharks.

Rust said there have been signs of Malkin returning to that level during the past two games.

"You can see him. He's out there playing with a purpose," he said. "He's playing with an edge. I think anytime anybody has that chip on their shoulder, it kind of elevates their game to the next level."

That still hasn't been enough for Malkin, who has a chance to start fresh.

"My game, I hope to try to change," Malkin said. "It's not a great year for me. It's a new season. It's playoffs."

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