Who's boss? Evgeni Malkin
Evgeni Malkin skates through the shower of hats that littered the ice after he scored his third goal Saturday in the Penguins' 8-1 rout of Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center.
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Evgeni Malkin is one of the premier talents in the NHL.
Most of the time, anyway.
Motivate him more than usual, however -- by, say, pouncing on him when he's lying on the ice -- and there's a pretty good chance he'll find a way to elevate his game.
The way he did in the Penguins' 8-1 victory against Tampa Bay Saturday afternoon at Consol Energy Center.
When Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson jumped on Malkin in front of the Tampa Bay net and appeared to punch him in the face at 8:23 of the second period, Malkin had managed a single assist in half a game.
By the time the third period ended, Malkin had rung up his ninth career hat trick, despite being officially credited with just 13 minutes, 29 seconds of ice time.
Kind of scary to think what he might have accomplished if coach Dan Bylsma had overworked Malkin and kept him out there for, say, 15 minutes or so.
"He's so skilled and big and strong, you can't get the puck away from him," Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, a Hall of Fame player, said. "He's as dominant a guy as there is in the game."
Roloson insisted that he simply was defending his workspace when he went after Malkin in the wake of Malkin's drive to the Lightning net as the middle of the second period approached.
"He was coming in hard [and] he takes me out," Roloson said. "It's just one of those things. I have to defend my area. He knows that as well as I do. We had a good laugh about it after that. It's part of the game."
Malkin, though, didn't seem inclined to chuckle about that sequence.
"Of course I'm mad, because I was just doing my job," he said. "I don't know why he was mad. I just controlled the puck and shot, and the defenseman cross-checked [me in the] back. I didn't know why [Roloson] punched my face."
Give Malkin credit for channeling his anger effectively.
He beat Roloson with a bad-angle shot at 16:03 of the second, then glared at him and, according to Roloson, "was actually telling me where [the shot] went."
At 5:50 of the third period, Malkin wove his way through much of the Lightning team before scoring his second, then completed his hat trick by punching in a James Neal rebound at 13:42.
"He's on top of his game right now," Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said. "He dominates games. It's good to be on his side."
Malkin's four-point game pushed his league-leading points total to 77, four more than Lightning center Steven Stamkos, who was held to two shots on goal.
One of those came on a breakaway early in the second period, when goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made some of the finest of his 33 saves.
Not long after denying Stamkos when he broke in alone, Fleury rejected Martin St. Louis on a breakaway to prevent the Lightning from whittling a 3-0 lead the Penguins had built on first-period goals by Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke and Jordan Staal.
"This game could have been, certainly, a different look if he didn't make four or five spectacular saves," Bylsma said. "You look up and you feel good at 5-0, but it could have easily been a much closer game than that. He played remarkable."
Fleury allowed just one goal -- by Teddy Purcell on a power play at 17:28 of the second period -- but that did little more than deny him an opportunity to become the first goaltender in franchise history to record shutouts in consecutive games.
"You see how great Marc-Andre is playing right now," Malkin said. "He's the best goalie in the league now."
Roloson looked like a contender for that distinction in the opening round of the playoffs last spring, but he has had a miserable season and might well be dealt before the trade deadline Monday, if there's a market for him.
And while no regular-season victory can offset a loss in the playoffs -- Tampa Bay, remember, beat the Penguins in seven games in Round 1 last spring -- the Penguins seemed to enjoy getting at least a small measure of revenge.
"When you get into rivalries like that, with teams that beat you in the playoffs, you obviously want to play your best against them," Dupuis said. "We put eight on [Roloson]. It feels good."
Especially to the guy responsible for three of them.
• Game: Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Consol Energy Center.
• When: 1:08 p.m.
• TV: Root Sports.
First Published February 26, 2012 12:00 am