Malkin breaks out for a Garden party

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NEW YORK -- Among the lesser-known incongruities rattling around the National Hockey League's exhaustive arithmetic, at least as the puck got dropped for Game 3 of these Eastern Conference semifinals, was Evgeni Malkin's total career goals at Madison Square Garden.

Zero.

Seven career games, two assists, no goals.

That couldn't last.

For just too many obvious reasons.

"The thing about Evgeni's game is that he's so loose when he's controlling the puck," said Marian Hossa in a routinely pleased Penguins locker room late last night. "He's so comfortable with the puck. Not many players have his kind of patience with the puck, especially in big games."

So Geno comfortably scored the third Penguins goal, the one that established a 3-1 lead in the first period, and comfortably scored their fourth goal, which negated the five oceans of perspiration the Rangers used to tie the score in the second.

What it all means is a very, very comfortable 3-0 Penguins lead in this series, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if Malkin ended it tomorrow night with a typically rousing Broadway encore.

"They had us back on our heels," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said of New York's inspired comeback. "We were lucky after the second period to still have the lead."

True, but there isn't a lot of luck involved in what Malkin does on this power play. The Rangers, who scored on their first man-advantage of this series and not since (they're 0 for 13 on the power play since), have to be vexed by the way Malkin makes power-play goals appear so natural.

Last night, it was a simple matter of winding up and firing from the high slot on his first goal. His second, the lethal one, was set up when Sidney Crosby tried a cross-ice pass that deflected off Ryan Callahan's stick and trickled toward Malkin on the right wing. Rather than charge it and risk having it hop over his stick, Geno waited calmly until it settled itself, then whistled it past Henrik Lundqvist for the lead New York could not overcome.

It was Malkin's goal that won Game 1 of this series, you've noted, and it's too bad his playoff total of 12 points thus far can't be considered by the people who vote for the Hart Trophy, for which Malkin was named a finalist just yesterday.

Jaromir Jagr's 75th career playoff goal seemed more than a mere milestone when he whipped it past Marc-Andre Fleury late in the second period, mostly because it fully extracted the desperate Rangers from a two-goal deficit and signaled the larger hockey audience that the Penguins aren't the only club with quick-strike ability in this struggle.

Callahan's goal barely a minute and a half earlier got New York off the deck, and seemed to indicate that there might be some point, after all, to outshooting the Penguins, 29-13, through two periods.

Michel Therrien's team had outshot its opponent in every game of these Stanley Cup playoffs, but last night let itself be suffocated by New York's defensive system. Only the fact that the Penguins were shooting like the Pitt Panthers at Madison Square Garden allowed them to gain a lead in the first place.

The game and the series might have swung irretrievably from New York's ability to salvage any subsequent drama in a fateful 92-second span late in the first period.

It was then that the Garden audience was shockingly invited to smell what Laraque's got cookin', namely Georges' go-ahead goal at the 17:49 mark, then sat in stunned silence as Malkin sent his power-play marker past Chris Drury and through a Ryan Malone screen for a 3-1 Penguins lead.

The Rangers already had been witness to the Penguins' quick-strike ability twice before in this series, but these two goals, coming just minutes after the Rangers had worked so feverishly at Fleury's doorstep to tie the score, 1-1, had about them some aura of finality.

When Martin Straka finally whacked Jagr's rebound across the goal line after an insane scramble, it appeared that New York had finally been rewarded for a first period in which it carried the play consistently to the Penguins' zone and peppered Fleury time and again with decent scoring chances.

Some rough-housing in the aftermath of Straka's goal crowded both penalty boxes like a crosstown bus, which is why Laraque was on the Sykora-Malkin line in the first place. When Sykora dug the puck free behind Lundqvist and slid it to Laraque in front, the big man knew exactly what do to.

All that was necessary for that third goal, practically, was for Hal Gill to take a sharp stick in the eye, which he did, courtesy of Callahan. Callahan got whistled for a double minor for that very high stick, and Malkin cashed in seconds later.

The Penguins have rammed home a power-play goal in all seven playoff games. If the Penguins are going to win by two goals on a night when they get outshot, 39-17, on the road, perhaps you'd better clear your calendar for another month or so.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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