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Malkin Steps Up at Crucial Time

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Evgeni Malkin wasn’t happy with the amount of shots he got in the Pens’ 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night. He registered just one all night, which didn’t come until halfway through the third period.

When talking to reporters after practice on Sunday afternoon, Malkin was adamant he needed to find a way to up his total.

“When you shoot you feel so much better because if you don’t shoot you don’t score,” he said. “I need to shoot more for sure. I need to find a way to shoot.”

Well, that wasn’t necessarily the situation in the Pens’ 3-1 win in Game 4 on Monday night. Malkin did score – the game-winner at that – but it was because he took his body to the net instead of the puck.

On Pittsburgh’s second power play of the night, Malkin planted himself at the side of the crease. The Sharks lost him in coverage, and Phil Kessel found him with a perfect pass that Malkin easily tipped into the back of the cage.

“I didn’t change my game a lot,” Malkin said. “I wanted to play with the puck a little bit more. My goal, Phil gave me the empty net. It’s not a great goal, but it’s just go to the net and stay close to the net and try to play around the net. When I have the puck, I try to shoot. It’s a simple game tonight for me.”

Head coach Mike Sullivan said they told Malkin he just had to take what the game gave him, and tonight, it was a wide-open net on somewhat of a broken play. But even though the sequence didn’t go exactly how they drew it up, he was still able to finish it.

“On our power play I stay on the boards and go to forecheck if (Sidney Crosby) loses (the faceoff),” Malkin explained. “After he won, we tried to switch, but I don’t know, we did not switch and it worked (laughs). Maybe next game we will play the same. Usually we switch after the faceoff. I don’t know why I stayed but it worked.”

During that same Sunday afternoon session with reporters, Malkin was vocal in his criticism of Pittsburgh's power play – saying all five guys on that first unit, including himself, played too casual and that they needed to be more aggressive.

“We played soft," Malkin said. "We didn’t shoot the puck. We had zero shots on the power play. We need aggressiveness from all five guys.”

Just as he's done all season, Malkin walked the walk after talking the talk – being the one to end the power play's drought with the Pens' first goal of the series on the man-advantage.

"It’s simple, if you want to win you need to use your power play," he said. "We didn’t score the first three games but it worked tonight. When you score it feels so much better. Just move the puck and Phil with a great pass to me."

Personally, Malkin has taken a lot of criticism for his lack of goal scoring in these playoffs, as the one tonight was his first in seven games and his fifth in the postseason. In comparison, he scored 14 when the Pens last won the Stanley Cup.

“Everyone says my game is not like 2009, but I like my game,” he said before the series began.

And so does the coaching staff. Over the last few days, Sullivan had been incredibly supportive of his star center, saying he knew Malkin was going to be fine. Even though Malkin hadn’t been producing at the level everyone’s used to, he was still having an impact on the game.

And to his credit, every time he was asked how he felt and whether his game was where he wanted it to be, Malkin always said he wanted better and knew he could be better. Tonight, he proved himself and his coaches right.

“I know he’s going to be a big part of the next few games here,” Sullivan said. “He’s an elite player. When he plays the game the right way, he’s a threat out there.”

And on Monday, he certainly was – finishing with a goal and an assist to help lead the Pens to within one win of the Stanley Cup.

“I thought he was really good,” Sullivan said. “Not just because he got on the scoresheet, obviously that’s great for him and it’s great for us. But I thought his overall game was really good. He played at both ends of the rink. And when he plays that way, he’s so hard to defend. It seems like the puck follows him around. I just thought he had one of his strongest games of the playoffs at an important time for us.”

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