Felt pretty good about the Penguins' chances of beating Carolina last night about the time Evgeni Malkin was trading punches in the second period with the Hurricanes' Chad LaRose.
When Malkin is that inspired, your favorite hockey club is too much for just about any opponent to handle.
Clearly, this is a man you don't want to tick off.
"He wanted to prove a point tonight," teammate Max Talbot said after the Penguins climbed onto Malkin's back and rode all the way to a 7-4 win in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final.
"He's not going to get pushed around."
This much was certain on this wonderful night at Mellon Arena: When push turned to shove, Malkin dished out the worst kind of pain to the Hurricanes.
Would you believe a hat trick that had 'em dancing in the aisles and chanting "Geno! Geno!"?
Is there a more beautiful sight in all of sports for a home crowd than the ice littered with hats during a playoff game?
And don't Mr. and Mrs. Malkin -- Vladimir and Natalia -- make an adorable couple, this time kissing in the stands after their kid's surreal third goal, celebrating the love pouring down from the rafters?
"My parents are superstars now," Malkin said, fairly giggling.
I'll get to Malkin's goals in a moment. Needless to say, "It feels awesome. My first playoff hat trick," he said. Frankly, I'm more interested in those over-the-top punches he threw at LaRose during a scrum midway through the second period that resulted in roughing penalties for both players.
Help me out here.
Can you remember the last time that happened with Malkin?
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
That LaRose might have made a horrible mistake by getting Malkin so riled up?
Actually, it was an open-ice hit from Carolina winger Scott Walker earlier in the second period that probably charged up Malkin. Certainly, it sent him flying. He didn't like it, nor did his teammates. LaRose's face just happened to present itself as an inviting target for Malkin moments later.
Then, No. 71 really made the Hurricanes pay. By the time he finished, his goal and assist earlier in the game almost seemed routine by comparison.
"If you're going to respond that way, guys are going to think twice about [taking liberties]," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "That's the best way of handling it."
LaRose came through the dust-up just fine. The same can't be said for the Carolina team after Malkin's one-man demolition show in the third period. It headed home to Raleigh, N.C., late last night lugging an 0-2 deficit in the series.
Malkin's winning goal midway through the third period would have made for a terrific night by itself; he fought off defenseman Tim Gleason and took a couple of whacks at a loose puck in front of Carolina goaltender Cam Ward before finding the back of the net to break a 4-4 tie. But Malkin delivered so much more. He made it 6-4 with a marvelous individual effort, taking a faceoff in the Carolina end, pushing through traffic to get the puck behind the net and circling around with defenseman Dennis Seidenberg on his heels before spinning and beating Ward with the prettiest backhander you'll ever see.
"An amazing display of skill," Crosby called the goal.
"Unbelievable," Talbot said.
Turns out Malkin called the faceoff play leading to that goal.
"It's called 'The Geno play' for a reason," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "There's not too many players in the world who can make a play like that. Two of them are on our team."
That right there is the dilemma facing the Hurricanes. They're not just in that deep, dark 0-2 hole. They have to figure out a way to contain the great Malkin and the great Crosby enough that they can win four of the next five games to take the series.
Good luck with that.
Crosby -- who scored the first goal last night, his NHL record-tying sixth first-goal in these playoffs -- will be amped for Games 3 and 4. There's no doubt about that. He's always amped.
But Malkin is the key. If he stays this inspired, the outcome of the series is clear.
The Penguins will sweep.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com .