After the worst season of his career ended 14 months ago with a serious knee injury, Malkin felt it was even less realistic to reach one of hockey's magic numbers.
But in the last game of an exceptionable comeback season in which he won his second NHL scoring title, Malkin found his way to 50. With 12 seconds remaining in the second period Saturday, he powered a shot from the high slot past Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky – a goal his teammates had worked the entire game to get for him.
Welcome to Club 50, Evgeni Malkin.
"I can't believe it," said Malkin, who showed far more emotion than usual while celebrating his milestone goal. "I didn't think before when I scored 47 that I will score 50. But we see if you work hard, you have a chance."
Malkin and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning were the only players to reach the 50-goal mark. Malkin was the only player to get 50 goals and at least 50 assists as he finished with a League-leading 109 points.
"It's a great accomplishment for Geno, after the injury last year, ending the season rehabbing – a huge accomplishment," coach Dan Bylsma said after Saturday's 4-2 win. "To be able to cap that off with 50th is great for him. I think everybody was cheering that puck going in."
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In a game that didn't affect the standings – the Penguins and Flyers already were locked into a Stanley Cup Playoffs matchup – Malkin's teammates spent most of an early five-minute power play trying to set him up for No. 50.
He didn't get it then, but he did get it to become the second Penguins player in three seasons to reach the 50-goal mark. Crosby scored 51 in 2009-10.
Crosby said it was difficult to do then; it was especially difficult for Malkin, he believes, because Malkin tore two knee ligaments in early February 2011 to end a season in which he scored a career-low 15 goals. After that 47-goal season, Malkin's goal totals had dropped each year – to 35 in 2008-09 to 28 in 2009-10 and finally to 15.
This season, he had nine goals in just his final 11 games.
"I'm really happy for Geno," Crosby said. "When you're getting close to 50 and the games are starting to go and starting to narrow down, you obviously think about it. It's a great number. To do it coming off the injury Geno is coming off is even more impressive. We're all happy for him."
Realizing he needed to work hard just to return by the start of this season -- and driven by a desire to make up for what he felt was a season of underachievement -- Malkin went through month after month of intense rehabilitation. He even brought Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar to Moscow to work with him last summer.
Not surprisingly, Kadar was one of the first people that Malkin thanked following the Penguins' 4-2 victory over Philadelphia.
Malkin also felt he benefitted by playing with the same two linemates, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, for most of the season. Neal ended with 40 goals and Kunitz scored 26 while playing mostly on a line with the Art Ross Trophy winner. Malkin also won the scoring title during his 113-point season in 2008-09, when the Penguins raised the Stanley Cup.
Malkin missed seven games early in the season as he recovered from the knee surgery, yet still managed to get to 50 goals. Last season, Corey Perry of Anaheim (50) was the only player to get there; in 2010-11, only Crosby (51), Stamkos (51) and Alex Ovechkin (50) of Washington scored 50.
"It's really tough. You have to be able to score different ways," Crosby said. "Stamkos has done it a few times, but it's tough to do. It's nothing that's automatic. Even when you have a good year, it's tough to do it. It says a lot about the season Geno's had. … He's having an incredible year, and it's a great number to finish with."