-- On Tuesday morning, Evgeni Malkin
was not a happy man.
As the Pittsburgh Penguins
went through their morning skate in preparation for Game 3 against Montreal at the Bell Centre, Malkin looked like he had the weight of the hockey universe on his shoulders.
His team was locked in a somewhat unexpected battle with the eighth-seeded Canadiens after a split of the first two games in Pittsburgh -- and he had not scored a goal in the past four games, dating back to the first-round series against Ottawa.
Despite having 4 goals and 5 assists in Pittsburgh's first 8 games, Malkin felt he was not performing up to the standards he had set in winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP last year with 36 points in 24 games. So he scowled when he flubbed a shot as the Penguins practiced a power play that had suddenly gone south against an aggressive Montreal penalty kill.
But 11 hours later, nothing could wipe the smile off Malkin's face after he scored the game-winning goal – on the power play, no less – in Pittsburgh's 2-0 victory in Game 3, a win that gives his team a 2-1 lead in the series.
"Of course I'm happy that I scored and we win and I helped my team," Malkin said. "I hope it is not last game of this series (I score). I feel good. It's good for us and it's good for me and let's keep it going."
Malkin's goal 76 seconds into the third period broke open a taut 0-0 tie that had the sellout crowd of 21,273 on the edge of its seats for the first 40 minutes. With Jaroslav Halak
turning in another brilliant performance, there was a growing belief among the faithful that the home team could pull off another upset.
That belief lasted until Malkin trumped Halak's brilliance with a supreme effort of his own.
With Montreal's best two penalty killers – Hal Gill
and Josh Gorges
-- in the box serving separate penalties, Pittsburgh got back to basics by changing the point of attack repeatedly with quick passes around the penalty-killing box.
Suddenly, the puck was on Malkin's stick and he pulled the trigger on a heavy slapper that sailed past Halak, who was partially screened by Crosby.
"First two power plays, we played not very good," Malkin said. "After second period, we talked a lot and we just moved the puck. Quick move of puck opened net and just shoot. Not too hard. Just move puck."
Defenseman Sergei Gonchar
was the fulcrum on which the successful power play pivoted. He repeatedly made the right pass, including the final one to Malkin.
"He's got patience and poise and all the things that make a great defenseman," Crosby said. "He's the quarterback back there for us. He makes a lot of the plays happen and everything kind of goes through him. Whether he's getting a shot through or making those plays to set up other guys; when he is on, everyone is better for it.
On Tuesday night, it was Malkin who was better for Gonchar's brilliance.
But Malkin is not satisfied with a temporary respite. He wants a permanent reprieve for the offensive slump that has bedeviled him at times during both the regular season and these playoffs.
"I'm happy I'm scoring; I scored, but I'm not playing 100 percent," Malkin said. "I want to play more and help my team."