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Stanley Cup Final

Evgeni Malkin of Penguins speaks softly, playing with impact in Final

Pittsburgh center leads by example, tops all scorers in Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin has flown under the radar.

That's difficult to do when leading the NHL with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At first, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's resurgence through the first two rounds headlined Pittsburgh's playoff run, before Matt Murray reemerged as the starter in the Eastern Conference Final.

Now, Malkin has one goal in each of the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, with the Penguins leading the Nashville Predators in the best-of-7 series 2-0, but rookie forward Jake Guentzel's three goals in the series have earned top billing.

Maybe Malkin will earn some attention in Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). Then again, he probably would rather not.

 

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"I think our players have so much respect for how good of a player he is, but also how good of a teammate he is," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "[Malkin is] a guy that, he doesn't say a lot. He's a quiet guy, but he cares so much about the Pittsburgh Penguins and helping them win.

"His play speaks for itself. He's one of those guys that we have on our team that has the ability to make a difference in one or two shifts."

Malkin has been consistent, possibly to a fault, throughout the playoffs. He has yet to have a breakout game, maybe except for Game 3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, when he had one goal and two assists.

Video: How the Penguins blew Game 2 open in the third period

Through 21 games, Malkin has had three three-point performances, but two came with three assists. He hasn't made the same kind of splash he did in 2009, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 games.

Because of that, Malkin has taken a backseat to a few potentially more intriguing storylines, which is fine with the Penguins.

They don't need him to score six goals in three games, as he did in the first three games of the 2009 Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes. They just look for him to steadily produce.

"I know our coaching staff, his teammates, our management team have so much respect for what Geno brings to the table as far as helping this Penguins team be as competitive as it is," Sullivan said.

Malkin's story could highlight the Penguins run, though. He could win the Conn Smythe Trophy a second time with his second-most productive playoffs of his 11 NHL seasons.

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm1: Malkin nets PPG on blistering slapper

It has come on the heels of an upper-body injury that sidelined him for the final 13 games of the regular season before he returned for Game 1 against Columbus.

In his first six games back, Malkin had 11 points (two goals, nine assists). He has had at least one point in 16 of 21 playoff games and has gone consecutive games without a point once (Games 3 and 4 of the conference final).

But Malkin enjoys remaining somewhat anonymous. He said as much before facing the Washington Capitals in the second round.

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

Malkin has succeeded on both accounts. He rarely speaks, even though when he does he produces some of Pittsburgh's better sound bites.

That was the case after Pittsburgh's 4-1 win in Game 2 on Wednesday, which included three goals within the first 3:28 of the third period.

"When we score one," Malkin said, "we don't stop."

Video: NSH@PIT, Gm2: Malkin goes bar-down to pad lead

Malkin's quiet demeanor and skill have helped him become a leader, sharing the same locker room with Penguins center and captain Sidney Crosby for a decade.

Sullivan has touted Crosby's leadership over recent weeks. Malkin's leadership is just as valuable, Sullivan said.

It's just different.

"I think [Malkin] is more of a quiet leader," Sullivan said. "He leads through his play. When he has the ability to make a difference by making a big play at a key time, he tends to do that. He's another one of those players that seems to make big plays at key times, when the stakes are high on a big stage."

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