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Malkin earns Conn Smythe with superb spring

by Mike G. Morreale
DETROIT -- Evgeni Malkin has been unstoppable ever since the Stanley Cup Playoffs began nearly two months ago.

It was in the way he hit, in the way he inspired teammates by working the corners and in the way he scored with such regularity that it became ridiculously routine. It was quite a turnaround for a player who appeared overwhelmed by his first trip to the Final last spring, when he had just 1 goal and 2 assists in Pittsburgh's six-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Malkin proved to be a force when the Penguins needed him most this spring. He led all scorers in the Stanley Cup Final with eight points (2 goals, 6 assists) in seven games and paced all scorers with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 24 playoff games. It's the most points by any player since Wayne Gretzky had 40 for the Los Angeles Kings in the spring of 1993.

For his efforts, Malkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP Friday night after his Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in Game 7 at Joe Louis Arena. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement prior to handing the Stanley Cup to Pens captain Sidney Crosby.

Even before this year's playoffs began, forward Bill Guerin knew that Malkin was up to the challenge this spring.

"He told us before the playoffs started that he was going to lead us to the Stanley Cup," Guerin said. "That kid is an amazing competitor and amazing player. He has a lot of character and a lot of heart."

Malkin proved to everyone that he was a big-time performer when the stakes were highest. At 22, he's the third-youngest player to win the Conn Smythe and joins Gretzky, Guy Lafleur, Phil Esposito and Mario Lemieux as the only players since 1968 to sweep the regular-season and playoff scoring titles in the same season. Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy after scoring a League-leading 113 points (35 goals, 78 assists) in 82 regular-season games.

"Geno's a loose guy, but at the same time he has the talent and the drive to kind of make those types of things happen," Pens defenseman Rob Scuderi said, using Malkin's nickname. "He was fantastic for us the entire playoffs, and I'm real glad that he got the Conn Smythe. After last year, he was pretty down about everything and it's nice to see him get all the way back."

During his team's playoff run in 2008, Malkin scored 10 goals and 22 points in 20 games. However, he struggled badly in the Final -- and his lack of production was a big reason the Pens lost to Detroit,

But that was then. This is now.

"He came back with a vengeance the entire season, and the playoffs were just unbelievable," Scuderi said.

"Do you need to talk about (Malkin's play in the postseason)?" defenseman Hal Gill said. "I think he sums it up every time he is on the ice. He plays a level above everyone."

In the final game of the season, Malkin was credited with the only assist on Max Talbot's first goal of the game at 1:13 of the second period after forcing a turnover deep in the Red Wings end. He saw just under 20 minutes of ice time, won 57 percent of his faceoffs on seven draws and blocked two shots. He finished the playoffs with 41 hits, a League-leading 27 takeaways and 104 shots on goal.

"He told us before the playoffs started that he was going to lead us to the Stanley Cup. That kid is an amazing competitor and amazing player. He has a lot of character and a lot of heart. "
-- Bill Guerin

"He's been helping the team all season long and is just a workhorse," forward Miroslav Satan said. "His skills are just unbelievable and he always had a knack for knowing what was going to happen next. I'm really happy that he won the MVP."

Malkin had 12 multi-point games in the playoffs -- including six in a row at one point -- and had six points in his last five games against the Wings.

"He's very deserving of MVP," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "He's been phenomenal for us and here, in the Final, what he did is a testament to his will and his personality and he deserves all the accolades he gets."

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