Evgeni Malkin boldly predicts win tonight in Game 7



It is a place where legends are forged, where memories that will be cherished for a lifetime are made.

It also can be the stuff of enduring nightmares and of emotional scars that never heal.

It is a Game 7, and there is nothing else like it in the NHL.

The Penguins and New York Rangers will play one at 7:10 p.m. today at Consol Energy Center to determine the winner of their second-round playoff series.

It will be 60 minutes — or maybe more — with an entire season’s worth of work and sweat and pain at stake on every shift.

A game in which the difference between pulling up on a check and finishing it can make the difference between a trip to Round 3 and a trip to the beach.

A game in which the importance of every mistake and sacrifice is magnified.

A game in which the only guarantee is that it will end with a handshake line.

And Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who joined teammate Sidney Crosby in a meeting with reporters after the team’s optional practice at Consol Energy Center Monday, left no doubt which side of that line he expects the Penguins to be on.

“We know we can win [tonight],” Malkin said. “And we’ll do it.”

This will be the Penguins’ first Game 7 since losing to Tampa Bay in the opening round in 2011.

Their most recent victory in one came June 12, 2009, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. They got to take many deep, intoxicating drinks out of a large silver trophy to mark the accomplishment.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have won four consecutive Games 7 — goalie Henrik Lundqvist has allowed a total of three goals in those — as well as nine of the past 11 games in which they’ve faced elimination.

While that’s pretty heady stuff, not all precedents bode well for New York: This, for example, is the 17th time it has faced a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series. The next one the Rangers win under those circumstances will be the first.

The Rangers called off their morning skate for players scheduled to be in the lineup tonight, but for the most part, game-day routines — everything from video sessions to special-teams meetings to team meals — figure to proceed as they would if this were a random regular-season game.

“I don’t know if you approach [Games 7] any differently,” Penguins right winger Craig Adams said. “Obviously, it’s a must-win game, but, at the same time, you want to focus on all the things you normally focus on to win a game. Nothing really changes.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be adjustments, to personnel or tactics or both, in the game.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma already has talked about deploying Crosby and Malkin on separate lines after playing them together much of this series.

Crosby has one goal and two assists against the Rangers, and has been among the most visibly frustrated Penguins the past few games.

The Penguins have given themselves a lot of problems — and given the Rangers a lot of power plays — because they’ve lost composure or lacked discipline when faced with adversity, and how they cope with such issues tonight could go a long way in shaping the outcome.

The Penguins’ challenge is to channel the emotions that a high-stakes hockey game generates in a productive manner. Not with a slash or a shove or a jab with the stick, but with enhanced passion and focus.

The Rangers obviously are aware of the Penguins’ exasperation at times in the series and hope to see more of it in Game 7, although left winger Rick Nash pointed out to reporters Monday in New York that prodding some of the Penguins’ high-end talents has its perils.

“With some guys, you don’t want to poke the bear too much and get them going,” he said.

Nash and his teammates, of course, are delighted to be facing a one-game season, since they’ve been on the cusp of elimination for the better part of a week. The Penguins would have preferred to be preparing for the next round by now, although defenseman Rob Scuderi suggested his team’s situation is not as unsettling as it might seem.

“It’s one game to move on,” he said. “If someone had said that’s the way it’s going to go for this series, I’m pretty sure that every one of us would have taken it.

“If there’s going to be a Game 7 at home with a chance to move on if you win the game, we all would have taken it. We’re not happy that we’ve gotten to this point, but we’re certainly going to take the opportunity that’s in front of us.”


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.

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