PITTSBURGH -- Imagine Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin on any of the other 29 (soon to be 30) NHL teams, centering the top line and holding his own as one of the best players in the League, but without Sidney Crosby as his teammate.
It's hard to do, right? It's hard to picture Malkin anywhere else, wearing No. 71 in different colors.
It's also impossible for Malkin to do, not so much because of the colors, the logo or anything like that, but because of Crosby, his presence and what it means for him.
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"I want to be better, like Sid," Malkin said Sunday at 2017 Stanley Cup Final Media Day. "I want to be better every day."
As motivated as Malkin and Crosby are to win the Stanley Cup for a third time since 2009, much of their drive to be better, to improve, to become the best they can possibly be to help the Penguins do it has been cultivated from their internal competition.
The Penguins are back in the Stanley Cup Final, with Game 1 set for PPG Paints Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), in large part because Malkin and Crosby have spent the better part of the past decade trying to be better than each other.
"It's good competition between me and Sid," Malkin said. "If Sid scores, I want to score two. If Sid [gets] one more, oh, I want to score one more too. If Sid scores hat trick, I stop."
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Malkin said that last part in jest, and it drew laughs from the assembled media, but it's not true. He would not stop. He still would try to one-up Crosby, and the Penguins would be better because of it.
"I know [Wayne] Gretzky said one day about [Mark] Messier, it's a small competition every day between him and Messier and it's good because they're better every day," Malkin said. "Like, who is better today? Who is better tomorrow?"
Malkin added that he knows he could have left Pittsburgh and Crosby to be a No. 1 on another team, to be the man, but he never wanted that. It's why he signed an eight-year, $76 million contract on June 13, 2013.
Crosby signed a 12-year, $104.4 million contract on June 28, 2012.
"I watch Sid every practice, he's such a professional guy, most professional I've ever seen," Malkin said. "I want to be [the] same. I want to be professional too, and I want to be better every day."
In 11 seasons together, Crosby and Malkin have combined for 671 goals and 1,757 points.
Crosby, who was in his second season when Malkin arrived in Pittsburgh, has 343 goals and 925 points in 701 games with Malkin as his teammate. Malkin has 328 goals and 832 points in 706 games.
The Crosby-Malkin Penguins have won the Stanley Cup twice and are going for No. 3. Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009, and Crosby won it last year.
Crosby and Malkin each has won the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy. Malkin won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL in 2006-07. Crosby added the Maurice Richard Trophy this season by leading the League with 44 goals.
"When he's out there, when he's going, you want to follow that up," Crosby said. "I think it gives you confidence as a player when you see someone out there with that capability. I don't think you put as much pressure on yourself when you go out there knowing that, hey, this guy is capable of changing the game with one play. So you go out there with the thought of make sure you do your job. I think it just gives you confidence."
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The fact is, though, Crosby has received more accolades and recognition than Malkin in their time together. Crosby has been the face of the League and of hockey in Pittsburgh. Crosby was voted as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian; Malkin was not.
Malkin has, in many ways, played his entire career in Crosby's shadow.
"I don't think it gets to him," Crosby said. "He's a pretty motivated guy. He's quietly pretty competitive. If those things drive him a little bit more, I think we're OK with that. We appreciate what he does. We know he's a special player and what he's accomplished is unique. Hopefully, he can take some reward in that."
"I feel I'm the guy here too," Malkin said. "People love me. I come to restaurants, people want to shake hands. It's fine for me. I signed a big deal here because I feel we can win every year.
"I want to play with Sid a long time."