PITTSBURGH (AP) - Evgeni Malkin has all but disappeared from the Stanley Cup finals. With one more loss, his Pittsburgh Penguins will, too.
Malkin, an NHL MVP finalist and the league's second-leading scorer during the season, was shut out for the fourth consecutive game as the Detroit Red Wings beat the Penguins 2-1 in Game 4 on Saturday night. Detroit can win the Stanley Cup as early as Game 5 at home Monday night.
"This is the toughest team I have ever faced," Malkin teammate Marian Hossa said. "It seems like they are everywhere."
And Malkin has been nowhere when the Penguins most need him.
Malkin had five shots but couldn't find the net Saturday, just as fellow star Sidney Crosby has done in only one game of the series. Malkin's inability to score is a major reason why the Penguins got down 2-0 in the series while being outscored 7-0 in Detroit and why they couldn't tie the finals in Pittsburgh, splitting two games there.
After Game 4, Malkin sat in front of his locker, his face buried in his hands, showing the frustration of a 21-year-old who kept the Penguins going during Crosby's two-month injury absence but hasn't been able to carry the Penguins' offense against Detroit. The Penguins have only four goals in four games.
Malkin has one goal in the Penguins' last eight playoff games after getting five goals in a four-game span against the Rangers and Flyers in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"I'm pretty frustrated and kind of disappointed that I didn't score any goals," Malkin said, speaking through an interpreter. "I'll just have to work harder. If I would score just one goal, I would get away from that bad streak."
The problem is, Malkin, Crosby and the Penguins are fast running out of time to show off the scoring skills that enabled them to lose only twice in the first three rounds. They've already lost three times in the finals.
Malkin acknowledged being down after the first two games, then responded with a much better Game 3 following a pep talk from coach Michel Therrien - but still couldn't score. He also was shut out in Game 4, even during a 5-on-3 opportunity in the third period in which Pittsburgh had an exceptional opportunity to tie the game.
"Personally I have been thinking about the fact I have not been scoring goals but, after a while, I just don't think about it," Malkin said. "I should just let it go. The coaches just talked to me and just said, 'Just let it go, just play with the team.' I'm not really thinking about it anymore."
Crosby senses Malkin's disappointment, but doesn't think No. 71 is letting down the Penguins, who are one loss away from losing for the first time in the Stanley Cup finals. They won in their only previous appearances in 1991 and 1992.
"He's battling just like everyone else out there," Crosby said. "There's not a lot of room. And to be honest, I don't think anybody's really creating that much out there. He's created a few chances, just like everyone else. ... You have to make sure you stay confident."