-- Nobody can forget just how dominating Evgeni Malkin
was for the Pittsburgh Penguins
last spring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For much of this spring, those memories were a fortunate thing as Malkin was doing very little to build on his legacy.
Yes, Malkin was compiling points against Ottawa and Montreal -- maintaining a point-per-game pace throughout -- but he wasn't doing much to make people stand up and take notice like he did in the 2009 postseason.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
joked earlier in the Montreal series that during his playing career, he wished he had "mini-slumps" like the one plaguing Malkin in the early stages of the 2010 postseason.
But, there was some trepidation behind that false front of calmness. Malkin was not the player he was last postseason. At times, the 2009 Art Ross
Trophy winner as the League's most prolific scorer, looked unsure of himself, lacking in confidence, frustrated. At times, in games or practices, he would give off bad signs with his body language or brooding demeanor.
Simply, he looked a little lost playing a game that almost always had come easy to the Russian, even in the biggest of games. He was looking for answers, but not finding them.
How easily does the game usually come to Malkin? Look at back at his numbers during the 2009 playoffs.
He had 7 points in Pittsburgh's first three games against Philadelphia, serving notice to the Flyers that he could not be contained. Then, in an epic seven-game series against Washington, Malkin was one of the main reasons Pittsburgh advanced, scoring 7 points in the final three games of that series. The third round against Carolina was a sweep, in part because the Hurricanes had no answer for the big second-line center.
That delivered the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final for the second-straight spring, but things started poorly as they lost the first two games to Detroit. Malkin, however, refused to let the Penguins die. He scored 5 points in the next two games as Pittsburgh evened the series. He added an assist in Game 7, a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena.
All told, he put up 36 points in Pittsburgh's 24 playoffs games. So there is a reason the point-per-game pace of this postseason was so vexing.
But Malkin seems to be finding his game at the perfect time for the Penguins. He opened the scoring in a 2-0 win in Game 3 when he lasered a shot past Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak
on a third-period power play.
Saturday night, in a make-or-break Game 5, he was even better as Pittsburgh escaped Mellon Arena with a 2-1 victory that gives them a 3-2 lead in a best-of-7 series that resumes with Monday night's Game 6.
"I think he played one of the better games in the series," Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar
said. "If you look at him, he was controlling the puck very well in the offensive zone. He created a lot of offense for us. He did a lot of good things for our team."
Despite the dominance -- including a run of three consecutive shifts in the second period when Montreal could not get the puck off his stick -- Malkin only ended up with one point, a primary assist on the game-opening goal by Kris Letang
But on this night, it was about dominating on the scoresheet. It was about announcing to the upset-minded Canadiens that Evgeni Malkin
was ready to rejoin the fray and make things infinitely harder on a team that has perfected the art of giant-killing through its first dozen postseason games.
"This series, I think it's my best game tonight and I hope it continues the same," Malkin said.
If it does, there stands a good chance that Malkin can singlehandedly take over this series, as well as the ones that might follow.
"When he takes it to that level it's really, really hard for other guys to stop him," Pittsburgh forward Bill Guerin
said. "Even two guys, he's going to make it difficult on you. If he's not taking it to the net himself, he's going to find somebody. If he gets in that zone of playing it's really difficult for the other team."
And it's also really entertaining for the Penguins.