Malkin regains old form in Game 3
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After a night in which he rediscovered the game that had somehow disappeared, Evgeni Malkin found himself in the last place a player wants to be late in a close game.
The Penguins center sat in the penalty box with his team clinging to a one-goal lead after being whistled for hooking Detroit's Niklas Kronwall -- an offensive-zone penalty, at that -- at a time when being short-handed could have been disastrous as the team tried to scramble back into contention in the Stanley Cup final.
"It was kind of a questionable penalty, but thanks to all my teammates who stood up at the end of the game," Malkin said through Russian interpreter George Birman. "It's a bad penalty to take."
The Penguins killed the power play and held on for a 3-2 win at Mellon Arena to cut their deficit in the series to 2-1.
Malkin didn't have any points in Game 3, but he played in a way that likely drew the attention of anyone watching.
Reunited with his longtime linemates Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone after Max Talbot had replaced Malone in Game 2, Malkin dived for pucks, got off three shots, threw his body around and worked to set up scoring chances.
"He played well," coach Michel Therrien said. "He got some chances, got some quality shots. He worked really well both sides of the ice, both sides of the puck. If 'Geno' keeps playing like this, you know eventually he's going to get rewarded."
Already, Malkin, 21, is in a better place.
One of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as MVP of the NHL and the runner-up for the Art Ross Trophy that goes to the league scoring champion, he played so well early in the postseason that there was talk of him equaling teammate Sidney Crosby's status as the top player in the world.
That subsided in recent games, but last night he played the style that lifted him into the scoring race while Crosby missed 28 games with a high ankle sprain the second half of the season.
"I feel much better," Malkin said. "I caught that [Stanley Cup] final taste. So every game I feel better and better."
It must have tasted good.
Malkin had eight goals and 17 points in the first 10 games of the playoffs, but since had just a goal and two points in six games going into last night. He had just one shot in the first two games of the series.
After he looked unusually sluggish in Game 1, Malkin was summoned for a talk with Therrien. It took a few days for it to sink in.
"The first two games weren't the best games our team played, and especially me," Malkin said. "I didn't play good games, but my coaches helped me with what I should do and I kind of went over what I have to do by myself, so I had a good game."
He got help in other places, too.
His Russian agent and friend, Genady Ushakov -- a rough translation since neither Malkin nor Birman were sure of the spelling -- is in town.
"It's a big help when he's here," Malkin said. "This is the fourth time this year. Sometimes he tells me what I have to do from a different viewpoint."
He's also getting a lot of long-distance love from his parents.
"I feel their support," Malkin said. "I talk to them all the time. They watch all the games."
There also was the home crowd.
Malkin always is the last player off the ice at the end of the pregame warm-up. In a superstitious ritual that started early in the regular season and plays out every game, he sent a soft shot at Penguins trainer Chris Stewart, who stopped it with his feet. Like they always do, the two then headed down the runway to the dressing room.
This time, as it played out, a nearly full complement of fans already in the stands gave Malkin a loud cheer of encouragement.
In the first period, Malkin was shown on the scoreboard screen, and that raised another ovation.
"It's kind of hard to miss when 17,000 are cheering and 17,000 fans go crazy," he said. "It's a big help."
And when Malkin plays the way he did in Game 3, it's hard to miss him.
First Published May 29, 2008 12:58 am