Malkin's hat trick fuels Penguins' Game 2 win over Carolina
Evgeni Malkin celebrates his third goal against the Hurricanes in the third period of game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Mellon Arena last night.
Evgeni Malkin prepares to backhand the puck past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward in the third period last night for his third goal of the game.
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Evgeni Malkin is the kind of player who can be a force in almost any game.
But there are times -- and the Penguins' 7-4 victory against Carolina in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finale at Mellon Arena last night was one of them -- when he's more like a force of nature.
It's not just that Malkin recorded his first career playoff hat trick. It's the way he did it, especially when he executed a faceoff play that carries his name.
"It's called 'The Geno' for a reason," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Mostly because that's almost a comprehensive list of all the guys who can pull it off the way Malkin did.
The Penguins were up, 5-4 -- on a go-ahead goal by Malkin, no less -- when Malkin lined up for a faceoff in the left circle in Carolina's end. When the puck was dropped, Malkin pushed it ahead, across the goal line. He collected it there, carried it around the net, then fought off defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and swooped out toward the right circle before launching a backhander past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward at 12:25 of the third period.
"He told me what he was going to do," linemate Max Talbot said. "And he did it."
Just that quickly, a game in which the Penguins had been unable to protect a string of leads effectively was over, and they had a 2-0 advantage to take into Game 3 at 7:38 p.m. tomorrow at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.
That's historically significant, because the Penguins are 12-2 when winning the first two games of a series, but only 9-13 when splitting them.
Of course, the Penguins also have firsthand knowledge that winning the first two games guarantees nothing. Washington beat them in Games 1 and 2 at the Verizon Center in the second round this spring, and the Penguins rebounded to win four of the next five.
Ward, whose consistently strong play is one of Carolina's greatest assets, was in goal for six of the Penguins' seven goals, but the Penguins don't construe that as evidence that he is cracking.
"He's a solid, very good NHL goalie who's won before," right winger Bill Guerin said. "You always have to be ready for his best."
And Ward has to be prepared for Malkin's. Trouble is, there really is no antidote to the ills he can cause when he is on his game.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury offered a novel strategy for neutralizing Malkin -- "I'd throw my stick like a tomahawk," Fleury said, laughing. "Injure him really good" -- but odds are that wouldn't be well-received by the league.
Malkin finished with a game-high eight shots and said that throwing so many pucks at Ward wasn't an accident.
"He's a good goalie, but I tried to shoot every shift and tried to score," Malkin said. "Tonight, I was a little bit lucky."
So were his teammates, considering that they won despite failing to protect leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-3 before getting the final three goals of the game.
"You get concerned, you get maybe a little frustrated when you take the lead and they keep coming back, coming back," Talbot said.
Malkin, it should be noted, wasn't the only Penguin to get a memorable goal in Game 2.
Chris Kunitz scored his first in 23 playoff games -- 15 of them this spring -- when he whipped a shot past Ward from inside the left circle with just 7.3 seconds left in the middle period.
"It definitely feels good," Kunitz said.
Especially when it helped the Penguins to grab the upper hand in the series as it prepares to move south. They have put the Hurricanes in a position where they must win four of the next five games to advance, a daunting task, even for a team as resilient as Carolina.
"They're a really hard team to play against," Guerin said. "They just keep coming and coming and coming. They've got a lot of character, they work hard and they believe in their system."
Carolina will need all of that if it hopes to turn this into a best-of-three when it returns to Mellon Arena next week.
"[The Penguins] did what they needed to do," Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. "They won two games on home ice. We have to do the same thing."
First Published May 22, 2009 12:00 am