The Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-1, in Game 1 of their First Round matchup on Wednesday night to open the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs, but a key factor was having center Evgeni Malkin return to the lineup.
The 6-foot-3 Russian native was absent for the last 13 regular-season games with a shoulder injury, but knew in Wednesday morning's skate that he was ready to go and slid seamlessly back into his prominent role on the offensive end.
"It is not easy," said Malkin, who picked up two assists in the victory. "I'm tired from this game. In the second period I was a little bit tired. I liked that we won the first game and I think next game will be a little bit better for sure. We played with confidence. The power play helped to win the first game and it will be a little bit better."
Malkin definitely made it look easy jumping back with the two assists that helped him to surpass Jaromir Jagr for third place on the club's all-time postseason assist list (84).
Malkin's first big play came in the second period off of a pass from defenseman Justin Schultz at the Jackets blue line. Malkin was able to stay on-side and get the puck to Phil Kessel, who busted out some soccer skills kicking the puck to Bryan Rust to get the Pens on the board with a 1-0 lead.
Malkin provided some edge throughout the rest of the game too, notching another assist on the power play.
Malkin is always happy to contribute, but the plan was still simple in his return: stay simple and make plays.
"Just play simple, it is playoffs," Malkin said. "Go to the net. You need shots to help. We need to use our speed to go behind the D and go to the net. Use the defensemen and play more in offensive zone. The second period we change moment and scored like three goals."