The Tampa Bay Lightning learned a valuable lesson in Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh: don’t make Evgeni Malkin
After Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson hit Malkin in the face during a net-front ruckus, a motivated Malkin responded to the goalie’s jab by scoring his ninth career hat trick and adding an assist as the Penguins routed the Lightning 8-1 at CONSOL Energy Center.
Malkin admitted after the game that Roloson’s actions fired him up and made him want to get some payback.
“I try, yeah,” Malkin grinned on whether he tried to score because of the altercation. “I’m a little bit mad because it’s not my fault. I’m trying to control the puck and the defenseman cross-checked my back. I lost my balance and punched (Roloson’s) arm a little bit. I don’t know why he punched me.”
After scoring his first goal from an impossible angle, Malkin made sure he hit Roloson with a steely glare while he celebrated.
“But after I score, of course I want him to see my face. I’m happy,” Malkin said.
The commotion occurred with 11:37 left in the second, with the Penguins holding a 3-0 lead. As Malkin danced through a bevy of Bolts defenders and got a shot on goal, he fell into Roloson after being knocked to the ground by Victor Hedman – which is when the goalie hit him with a jab.
Before, such an action may have actually had the opposite effect and gotten Malkin off his game. But it’s a testament to Malkin’s maturity, focus and determination that he responded by elevating it.
“Just another great game by him,” center Jordan Staal
said. “He can take over a game with one shift. He’s definitely a lot of fun to watch.”
Malkin entered the game tied with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos for the league lead in points with 73 apiece. With Stamkos failing to register a point, Malkin gained a four-point edge in the Art Ross Trophy race with his efforts Saturday.
And the fans at CONSOL Energy Center voiced their support for another category: league MVP.
The cries of “MVP! MVP!” erupted as Malkin scored once, twice and as hats showered to the ice after his third.
But while he appreciated the chants and cheers, Malkin’s only goal today was staying focused on taking each game one at a time.
“I’m trying not to think about my points,” he said. “When you start thinking, it’s a little bit too much in your head. I just think about my games, what I do right, what I don’t. I talked to coach (Dan Bylsma), he helped me a little bit, just focusing on my game, focusing on my linemates. We just did a great job again today and we’ll see (how) tomorrow (goes).”
Of Malkin’s three goals, his second is already a top candidate for Goal of the Year with the dazzling stickhandling lesson he put on display.
On the play, Malkin scooped the puck in the neutral zone and carried down the center of the ice with speed.
He split the Lightning defensemen and pulled the puck through Brett Clark's legs before deking Roloson and tucking it under his right pad for the score.
“It’s a lucky goal,” Malkin said. “I have great speed in the neutral zone. (Steve Sullivan
) passed to me, I beat the defensemen and shoot between the legs and Roloson couldn’t find it.”
Does Malkin think it’s one of the best goals of his career?
“Maybe, yes,” he smiled. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen the replay, but it looked good, I think.”