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Malkin being a difference-maker for Pens

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

"Quiet" isn't a word anyone would use to describe Evgeni Malkin on or off the ice.

On the ice, he makes dazzling, jaw-dropping, highlight-reel plays. Off the ice, he loves to have fun, always laughing and joking around with his teammates.

But one thing Malkin did relatively quietly in a series filled with storylines is rack up an NHL-leading 11 points in just five playoff games, with his nine assists ranking first as well.

"He's such an important player for us," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's a difference maker. I think his numbers show that just in his offensive production and what he can do for us with regard to scoring goals."

What's even more impressive is that Malkin is doing all of this coming off an injury that forced him to miss significant time. He was sidelined for the last 13 regular-season games and 20 of the last 35.

Malkin returned in Game 1 of Pittsburgh's First Round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, admitting afterward it was a tough night for him. But he's since gotten his conditioning and timing back where it needs to be.

"It's tough, I missed 13 games and I was a little bit nervous when I was back, but now I feel so much better," Malkin said. "Every game I have more confidence."

What has helped Malkin is the confidence he's gotten from Sullivan and the rest of the coaching staff. They haven't hesitated to send him over the boards as possible, with Malkin averaging 19:44 minutes per game.

"Coach believes in me," Malkin said. "He gives me time and every shift, every game I feel better. Scored a couple goals, they give me confidence too and now I just want to play."

Sullivan said Malkin has earned everything he's gotten with the way he's been playing, particularly in even-strength play with linemates Phil Kessel and Bryan Rust.

"This coaching staff has seen more of a complete game," Sullivan said. "His offense speaks for itself. He's so talented. And I think everybody sees that, but he's also making a commitment to play away from the puck and I think that's important for us moving forward. There's no question he's an important part of our team and he had a significant impact on the first series."

And now, Malkin can't wait for the second series to get started.

"I want to play and just enjoy my game, enjoy being here, enjoy playing in the playoffs," he said. "It's the best time in the season."

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