MONTREAL -- Evgeni Malkin
finished his whirlwind All-Star tour with the sweetest goal in the Eastern Conference’s 12-11 shootout victory over the Western Conference. Malkin picked up the puck in the slot with space. He slipped his stick between his legs and lifted a wrist shot past goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
“It’s not hard because everybody has this move,” Malkin said in the locker room after the game. “I just (put my stick) between my legs and shoot. It’s not hard. I’m happy because it’s my first goal in an All-Star Game.”
Malkin busted out the maneuver in a few practices but said he won’t use it during a regular-season game.
“It’s different because it’s an All-Star Game,” he said. “The defensemen don’t play (as) hard. A couple times I did it in practice and scored. I saw an open net and just shot.”
Malkin started his second straight All-Star Game. The Russian native centered a line between Eric Staal and Alex Kovalev.
“I played with Evgeni before on the National Team, and I know the way he plays,” Kovalev said. “And we talked about having fun during the game, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to be too serious. Just enjoy it and that’s what we did.”
Staal and Malkin each tallied a goal but the night belonged to former Penguin Kovalev.
Kovalev scored two goals, an assist and netted the game-deciding shootout goal. The East captain was also named the All-Star Game MVP and helped lead his team to a victory.
|Malkin scores a sweet goal for his first career All-Star tally (Photo by Getty Images) |
“Like I said in the beginning of the weekend, I’m not going to hide this; I want this badly, so I was going for it,” Kovalev said after the game with his 6-year old son Nikita on his lap. “You can’t ask for a better package than this. Get voted in the All-Star Game by the fans, starting lineup, being the team captain, get MVP. This is something you’re going to remember the rest of your life.”
“Kovy win (MVP) and everybody scored,” Malkin said. “Captain said I need win tonight. We play (as the) home (team) so we needed to win. It was a great game.”
Also during the weekend, Malkin and fellow countryman Alex Ovechkin buried their animosity - with an assist from Ilya Kovalchuk. The Atlanta winger convinced the two superstars to forgive and forget over dinner.
“We talked, every day we talked (during All-Star weekend),” Malkin said. “We went to dinner and now we’re friends. Kovalchuk is good. He helped with so much talking. He’s a great guy.”
Kovalchuk convinced Malkin and Ovechkin that they were better off as friends since they’ll be teammates for Team Russian in various upcoming competitions.
“Yeah because we play the Olympics Games and (World) Championship Games,” Malkin explained. “We need (to be) friends.”
The duo hooked up for a prank during the SuperSkills breakaway contest. As time was running out on Ovechkin’s turn he skated over to Malkin, who was holding a bag full of props. Malkin gave Ovechkin a fisherman’s hat with a Canadian flag erected on it and a pair of sunglasses. Malkin then wiped down the glasses, squirted Gatorade into Ovechkin’s mouth and handed him his stick. Ovechkin skated on goal with both sticks. He discarded his own and scored a goal with Malkin’s.
“It was his idea, not mine,” Malkin said. “He said help me. ‘What’s going on?’ ‘I have a good idea. You’ll enjoy it.’ He came before the shootout and gave me glasses and hat. I think it was a great idea.”
Of course, Kovalchuk also contributed to the idea.
“Kovalchuk helped me," Ovechkin said. "Kovalchuk said Malkin can give me some water and clean my sunglasses. And give me his stick so I think it was pretty fun."
Later in the skills competition, Malkin won the Accuracy Shooting Contest. He became only the fifth player to hit four targets on four shots, joining Ray Bourque (1991 and 1992), Mark Messier (1996), Jeremy Roenick (2004) and Tomas Kaberle (2008).
Problem was Dany Heatley became the sixth player to reach that feat and a tie-breaker round was needed. Malkin nailed his first three targets but came up inches wide of going perfect in eight shots. However, his seven out of eight was enough to claim the title. Not bad for a guy who thinks his accuracy is “not good.”
I think it was good luck. I just shot and scored. My first time, I wasn’t nervous. My first shot I scored and it was easy. I shot again and scored. It was good luck maybe. - Evgeni Malkin
“No, I’m not good,” Malkin said the day before the event. “No, no, (my accuracy) is not good.”
So how does he explain his success?
“I think it was good luck,” Malkin said after the contest. “I just shot and scored. My first time, I wasn’t nervous. My first shot I scored and it was easy. I shot again and scored. It was good luck maybe.”
Malkin even grew a little into his role in the spotlight. He’s normally very shy and reserved with the media because he’s still learning English. However, Malkin seemed to come out of his shell a little bit.
“I’m more comfortable,” he said. “It’s my third year and I’m more comfortable. It’s easy questions. It’s not hard.”
All in all, Malkin returns to Pittsburgh with his first All-Star goal, a rekindled friendship and the Accuracy Shooting title. Not too bad for a 22-year old.
“It’s very fun; it was a great game,” Malkin said. “I had a great time. Fans were great. It was good.”