Bruins beware: not only is a rested Evgeni Malkin
raring to go for the third round, he’s never felt better about his game going into the series.
Malkin has been producing these entire playoffs, as he is tied with teammate Kris Letang for second in league scoring and first on the team with 16 points (4G-12A) in 11 games. Getting on the scoresheet has never been a concern for him, but in the first round, his defensive play was. At times he tried to do too much with the puck when he had possession against the Islanders, and it resulted in turnovers and chances against.
Malkin said he had to simplify his play in order to improve it, and he has. He has been smart, responsible and hardworking across all 200 feet of the ice with and without the puck. He is deservedly pleased with how his play has progressed as the Penguins have advanced deeper into this postseason. But going into the Boston series, he feels like he can perform at an even higher level. And for the reigning MVP who is already playing like a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate (an award he won three years ago during Pittsburgh's championship run), that’s saying a lot.
“We win two rounds and I’m not thinking of myself,” Malkin said after practice on Friday. “I had a couple turnovers in the first round, but I think I played a little bit better in the second round. Every game I feel so much better and (have) so much confidence. And right now I’m so excited to play tomorrow. I feel awesome.”
Though Malkin would have preferred to start the third round right away, he conceded that the long break has been beneficial helping him recover from what he called a “small injury” that he said all players have after games.
“It’s a little bit tough but of course it’s good, because we get a little bit of rest and my small injury has a little bit better feel right now,” he said. “If we (had played) in two days, it’s a little bit better for me. But I’m ready. It doesn’t matter what day. Just focused (for) tomorrow.”
Malkin, who did not play in any of the three regular-season games against Boston, has a future Hall of Famer in Jarome Iginla on his left wing and a 40-goal scorer in James Neal on his right – and their line is sure to draw the toughest of matchups from the Bruins. Not only will they likely face two-way center David Krejci, but they will also probably be matched up against towering captain Zdeno Chara.
When asked how much he believed he would see Chara, Malkin laughingly joked, “I hope not a lot,” adding, “he’s the best defenseman right now, he’s big and strong. But if we play a little bit deep behind him, we have a chance. Just use my speed and maybe my shot more a little bit. Just play my game and move the puck.”
Malkin measures a lean 6-foot-3, but he is deceptively strong. He’s so skilled at using his strength and his long, wiry frame to his advantage, especially when it comes to protecting the puck, battling for it and overpowering/holding off defenders. He is going to do whatever it takes to keep possession in the offensive zone against Chara, including being physical as possible on the big 6-foot-9 defenseman despite the size difference.
“I try (to play him physical), but of course it’s tough (laughs),” he said. “But I try. We need to play the whole game physical because they play physical too, you know? It’s a tough game. It’s a great battle in the corners. But I like to win and win every battle.”
Malkin is excited for and embracing the challenge the Bruins present for both himself and the team.
“The last four Stanley Cup champions (are in the conference finals),” he said. “It’s an unbelievable year. It’s the best year for us too, you know? We have a great team. Great feeling inside the room. We know how we play and so excited for tomorrow.”