The real Evgeni Malkin
has returned to the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Displaying every one of his sublime skills, Malkin took over Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between his Pittsburgh Penguins
and the Washington Capitals
, finishing with a goal on a game-high nine shots while playing an unmatched 29:38.
More than the numbers on the score sheet, however, was the way Malkin exerted his will on almost every one of his 29 shifts. He was dominant over the 200 feet of ice, using his speed and size to overwhelm the Capitals.
He had a breakaway in the final minutes of the first period when he steamed past Caps defenseman Tyler Sloan
and forced goalie Simeon Varlamov to make a nice pad save. He drew a slashing penalty on Varlamov which gave the Pens a power play to open the third period. Midway through the third he fired a shot that nearly tore a hole in Varlamov's glove, and moments later he made an end-to-end rush that saw him slip through the Capitals as if he was covered in Vaseline. Washington's only solution was for Alexander Semin
to take a penalty for hooking Malkin.
After drawing the penalty, Malkin cashed in. Moving right to left in the Washington zone, he deked away from Brooks Laich
to create space and unleashed a rocket from between the hash marks that went through a Bill Guerin
screen. The power-play goal gave the Pens a 2-1 lead with 4:59 left in the third period.
And while he won't get credit for it, he helped set up Kris Letang
's game-winning goal with his diligent play in the defensive zone. His tight checking forced a Washington turnover, and then he streaked out of his zone to nearly catch a Maxime Talbot
fly pass. His presence forced Varlamov to freeze the puck, and on the next faceoff, Letang scored the overtime winner.
"I think over the last few days he's taken a bit of heat, but he's played well," said Pens captain Sidney Crosby
. "I think tonight he raised his game even more still. He did a lot of great things like he's done the last few games, but we saw one go in for him finally, which is great. It was a big game and he definitely came to play and raised his game."
Talbot's presence on Malkin's wing seemed to energize the third-year center, who had scored 4 goals in his first three playoff games, but hadn't scored in five contests and totaled just 4 assists and a minus-4 rating.
Fans rained down chants of "Geno, Geno" most of the night, which seemed to further energize the player who led the League with 78 assists and 113 points in the regular season.
"It was a good game tonight," said Malkin. "I was ready, I felt good. I know I haven't played good the last two games. The fans helped me. It was a big game tonight."
Malkin's limited English doesn't allow him to properly describe just how well he played; others, though, had no problem.
"I don't think it's because of me he played that way," said Talbot. "People are on him because he's not scoring, but now that he's scored a goal, everybody's like, 'Oh my God, Geno played a great game.' I think he was good in Game 2, Game 1. Obviously people expect him to score, so I don't take any credit on that. He's a great player. Maybe my energy brought him a little bit, but I give him all the credit he deserves. He's a great player."
"In terms of Geno's play tonight, I'm pretty sure it speaks for itself," added Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
. "He was at another level, a different level. He was dominant with the puck. He had the one goal which was fantastic, but had other great opportunities. It was great to see him respond and get that goal. He played a great game. He deserved to get at least a point tonight and he got that goal and it was great to see."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.