PITTSBURGH -- The longer the Pittsburgh Penguins keep their series against the Philadelphia Flyers going, the more time they give Evgeni Malkin to play a major role in it.
As the Penguins return to Philadelphia for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon, they're still waiting for the Art Ross Trophy winner and MVP contender to become the dominating scorer he was during his 109-point season.
Both of Malkin's goals so far came during a keep-the-series-alive 10-3 victory in Game 4 that prevented the Flyers from completing a four-game sweep. And while Malkin got off four shots in 21:14 of ice time during the Penguins' 3-2 win Friday in Game 5, he was visible mostly for the wrong reasons.
Not only did Malkin accidentally collide with teammate Sidney Crosby – giving both a jolt and Penguins fans a major scare – he took two penalties, one of which resulted in the Flyers' 11th power play goal of the series. Malkin also had five giveaways, three more than any other player on either team.
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Malkin, who hasn't been taking part in group interviews during the playoffs, spoke to reporters following a 30-minute practice Saturday and acknowledged he's still waiting to get going as the series nears an end. Not that he's planning to change anything.
"I'm not trying to change my game," Malkin said. "I'm just being patient and just playing my game. Last game, [I took] stupid penalties. I'm a little bit nervous. But [I've got to] play my game."
Malkin has been held without a goal in four of the five games; Jordan Staal, by contrast, already has six goals in the series and has been a bigger force offensively than Malkin.
Coach Dan Bylsma believes Malkin could have done a better job of controlling his emotions in Game 5, given the Penguins' precarious position and the tightness of the game. Staying out of the penalty box is a key for the Penguins the rest of a series in which the Flyers are 11 of 20 (55 percent) on the power play.
The Flyers are trying to make sure that nothing comes easy for Malkin – no shift, no shot, no goal, no rush down the ice, no twirl-and-whirl move behind the net that can create offense.
"Of course it's hard to control the emotions," Malkin said. "Every whistle, the puck drops and two d-men start coming to you and start pushing you, it's tough. It's hard, but you need to control it."
Especially now, with the Flyers back home and admittedly determined to make sure they don't return to Pittsburgh until next season. However, captain Sidney Crosby said it's important to every player – not just Malkin – to keep his emotions in check and avoid retaliatory penalties.
Tyler Kennedy, for example, took a slashing penalty in the third period, creating a power play in which the Flyers threw seven shots at goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in less than two minutes.
"It's an emotional game, things are going to happen," Crosby said. "We all know that we have to put our energy in the right places. He (Malkin) knows that, we all know that. It doesn't mean things aren't going to happen because they do. As long as we try to know that in the back of our minds then we give ourselves a better chance."
"I'm not trying to change my game. I'm just being patient and just playing my game. Last game, [I took] stupid penalties. I'm a little bit nervous. But [I've got to] play my game."
-- Evgeni Malkin
Earlier in the series, Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier was receiving much of the credit for controlling Malkin, who had three goals and six assists in six regular-season games against Philadelphia. Malkin also was hot down the stretch, getting 12 goals in his final 14 games to reach the 50-goal mark for the first time.
"It's tough, he's a good player, he plays with (former Penguins forward) Max Talbot and he's a good player," said Malkin, who is on a line with Chris Kunitz and 40-goal scorer James Neal. "We need to go fast and if we play right (in Game 6), we have a chance to win."
Kunitz and Neal also didn't score – and neither did star Sidney Crosby – as the Penguins' goals in the potential elimination Game 5 came from Steve Sullivan, Kennedy and Staal.
"We need to play better, the last game we don't score and we did not play great," Malkin said of his line. "But we can be better."
Right now, with no margin for error and no games remaining in their season if they don't win Sunday, the Penguins understand they have no other choice but to be better.
"They're going to be desperate as much as we are," defenseman Kris Letang said. "At this time of the year, you can't take a night off."
Especially when the alternative will be having the next four-plus months off.