Malkin making up for last year's final by topping 30-point playoff barrier
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The game -- one the Penguins had to win -- was tied. It was late in the first period. They were on a power play.
What does center Evgeni Malkin do? The player who is the leading scorer in the NHL playoffs?
Skated over to the boards, through the door and down the runway into the home-team locker room at Mellon Arena.
"My skate was bad," Malkin said later. "I went to sharpen it. I tried [to skate with it], but it's bad."
He returned after the intermission, having done a good bit of damage already and set to do a little more.
Malkin had two assists in the first period and added another in the third.
Up until Max Talbot scored an empty-net goal to close the scoring, Malkin had a point on every Penguins goal in the series, a total of one goal and five assists.
"He's played good all playoffs, but with last year's final, I think he wanted to prove a lot of people wrong," Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said.
Tomorrow will mark a year since the Red Wings beat the Penguins in Game 6 to clinch the Stanley Cup. Malkin was not his best in that series, getting one goal and two assists.
He has since revealed that he was fighting illness, and again confirmed that last night.
This time, he is healthy and showing the hockey world a better brand of play in the final.
"I feel better. I have a great line," he said of wingers Ruslan Fedotenko, who had an assist, and Talbot, who had two goals. "We played good tonight. I try to play better every game."
No one is producing more this postseason. Malkin, 22, has at least one point in 17 of the Penguins' 20 games and leads the league with 33 points. He is the first player to top 30 points in one postseason since Colorado's Joe Sakic had 34 in 1996.
Fellow Penguins center Sidney Crosby is second in these playoffs with 29 points.
Malkin, a finalist for the Hart Trophy as MVP of the NHL, has chance to be first player to win the Art Ross (regular-season scoring title) and Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) trophies in the same season since Mario Lemieux in 1991-92, the second of the Penguins' back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
Malkin led the regular season with 113 points after finishing as the runner-up a year ago.
He started strong in the postseason in 2008, getting nine goals, 10 assists through the first three rounds before a dropoff in the final.
"I was not here for last year, but he's been pretty solid, especially if he sticks to the way we should play," Fedotenko said. "Then he will get the points on almost every goal."
Detroit doesn't make that easy.
"We try to get the puck deep and try to not go through the middle of the neutral zone because they are really good at picking up the puck," Fedotenko said. "[Malkin's] been pretty good in trying to simplify the game and get it deep."
That means giving up those mad rushes up the ice and resorting to less flashy plays, keeping the puck closer to the boards.
"The defensemen are good skaters," Malkin said of the Red Wings. "They play close to the forwards. It's tough.
"The middle is a dangerous zone. We try to play more on the sides and chip it off the board and skate."
That doesn't mean Malkin isn't tempted to take on the sea of red at mid-ice.
"His drive for producing, maybe sometimes he's trying to do a little too much himself and gets frustrated," Fedotenko said, "but as long as he sticks with the program, I think he's been great for us."
Malkin smiled at that idea.
"Maybe I need to keep it simple," he said. "When we play simple, it's a key for the game because [Detroit] has good defense, good goalie."
Last night, they were not a match for Malkin.
First Published June 3, 2009 12:57 am