Penguins' Locker Room: Malkin savors victory, eyes some rest
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PHILADELHPIA -- A year ago, in Evgeni Malkin's second foray into the NHL playoffs, he never could have done this.
This time, the Penguins' prolific center practically gushed.
"It was a good series. I love it," he said yesterday after he had two assists to help his team close out its first-round series against the Flyers with a 5-3 win in Game 6 at Wachovia Center.
"Every game, it was hard. Good games."
Communication is just one area in which Malkin has improved.
The Russian-born star no longer needs an interpreter, and he doesn't need anyone to guide him around any and all corners of the ice.
He had 10 goals, 22 assists in the Penguins' run to the Stanley Cup final last season and led the 2009 playoffs with nine points (four goals, five assists) going into the games last night, but Malkin seemed more satisfied about feeling like he has a more well-rounded game this postseason.
"I learn," the 22-year-old said. "It's my third playoffs. It's a little bit different. I play in defensive zone more, try hard, play whole [ice], [mesh with all] five guys."
His teammates see that.
"Playoffs are so much more difficult. It's so much tighter," center Sidney Crosby said. "You have to raise your level. Everybody has to, but 'Geno' is a big guy. He can go in those areas and win battles and make room for himself."
Scoring still is the attention-getting aspect of Malkin's game.
He won his first regular-season scoring title with 113 points and most likely will be among the finalists for league MVP award when they are announced Wednesday. Staying or finishing on top in points in the playoffs, however, is far down his list of priorities.
"I'm not caring because we win the series," Malkin said. "I'm happy. Not my points. In playoffs, it's different."
His first two NHL seasons -- a first-round sweep by Ottawa in 2007 and the long run last season -- Malkin fought fatigue. Seasons in Russian pro hockey are considerably shorter.
He is pacing himself now.
"Maybe rest. I need rest because it's tough series," he said of what experience has taught him.
He's up for another long playoff run.
"Maybe couple days off," Malkin said. "It's good we win in six games, not seven.
Malkin had what could have been considered a challenge during the series with the Flyers.
Linemate Petr Sykora, a sniper who was struggling to score but who had shown good instincts with Malkin dating to their days playing together in Russia during the 2004-05 NHL lockout season, was scratched for Games 5 and 6.
"Little bit surprised because 'Sykie' good player and good shot, but maybe he need couple days rest," Malkin said, then displayed a bit of the devilish side of his personality that previously was hidden by his language barrier.
"We play three years, maybe Sykie tired of playing with me," he said, laughing.
"It's little bit rest now. Maybe we play together next series and play better."
With Sykora out, Malkin and Ruslan Fedotenko had a series of wingers on the right side of their line. They included Pascal Dupuis, Max Talbot and Miroslav Satan. Malkin also was used at times on Crosby's wing, something Penguins coaches have done over time to try to provide an offensive spark.
"We need to win," Malkin said. "I play [with] everybody. It's OK for me."
First Published April 26, 2009 12:00 am