There are times when Pittsburgh centre Evgeni Malkin almost gets overlooked.
That’s no small thing, considering that he won the NHL scoring championship in 2008-09 and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy. It also is understandable, given that he shares a locker room with a guy like Sidney Crosby.
But there are other occasions – and Pittsburgh’s 7-4 victory against Carolina in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night at Mellon Arena was one of them – when Malkin makes it flat-out impossible to ignore him.
Ringing up his first career playoff hat trick would have been enough, but Malkin made it even more memorable with a sensational individual effort on his third goal.
The Penguins were ahead, 5-4, midway through the third period when Malkin lined up for a face off in the left circle in Carolina’s end. Rather than try to draw the puck to the point, he pushed it forward, then collected it behind the Hurricanes’ goal line.
Malkin carried it around the net and, when he got to the inner edge of the right circle, threw a backhander that sailed past Carolina goalie Cam Ward to give the Penguins their first multiple-goal lead of the night.
Fittingly, the play on which Malkin scored is a set play the Penguins named after him.
“It’s called ‘The Geno’ for a reason,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “There’s not many players in the world who can make a play like that, and two of them are on our team.”
And the other star of the team was awfully impressed by what he saw.
“His third goal was amazing, to get that up, top-shelf,” Crosby said. “It’s something we work one, plays coming out of the corner like that. But it’s rare - No. 1 that you’re able to do it and give yourself space to do it - and put it up top-shelf like that. He executed perfectly.”
Malkin did that a lot during Game 2, when he launched a game-high eight shots at Ward.
“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.”
Or perhaps lucky that Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t on an opposing team, because Fleury offered a rather alarming theory for how to limit the damage Malkin does.
“I’d throw my stick like a tomahawk,” he said. “Injure him really good.”
Fleury was kidding, of course. Many more performances like the one Malkin turned in during Game 2, however, and some opponent just might consider incorporating it into a game plan.
Chris Kunitz, who has spent the entire postseason on Sidney Crosby’s left wing, failed to score a goal in Pittsburgh’s first 14 playoff games, but broke out of his slump by beating Ward from inside the left circle with just 7.3 seconds left in the middle period of Game 2.
“It definitely feels good,” Kunitz said. “But our team is a close group in the locker room. It’s not about the goal. It’s more about the win. Personally, it’s all good to get it done, but we’ve been having a lot of guys score goals who maybe aren’t expected to.”
'Canes need home cooking
Losing the first two games obviously has put Carolina in a precarious spot, but the Hurricanes play well at home and realize they can distill this series to a best-of-three by capturing Games 3 and 4 at the RBC Center.
“[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.”
That, winger Patrick Eaves said, is perfectly reasonable to expect if the Hurricanes correct a few mistakes that surfaced in Game 2.
“We've just got to get back to playing our game,” he said. “Simple, quick and fast. And I think we'll be all right. Just like I said, we'll be good when we get back home.”
Goalies have their struggles
Ward had been 5-0 in all-time Game 2 starts before Thursday night, but even though his record no longer is perfect, his reputation among the Penguins hasn’t suffered much.
“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.”
Fleury didn’t come through with that during the early part of Game 2 – the Hurricanes scored three times in the first 12:10 of play – but he kept his composure and allowed only one more during the final 47-plus minutes.
“I was a little bit mad to give up so many goals early in the game,” Fleury said. “But it was important to stay confident, positive.”
Carolina center Eric Staal said he spoke with his father in Thunder Bay, Ontario Wednesday night for the first time during this series, and suggested the parents aren't always enjoying the fact that he and younger brother Jordan of the Penguins are doing battle.
Especially when the brothers are matched directly against one another as often as they have been through the early part of this series.
“I think it’s difficult on them, watching this,” Eric Staal said. “I think it’s just kind of awkward.”
The Penguins failed to protect leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-3 in Game 2 before locking up their victory by scoring the final three goals of the game.
Afterward, several players acknowledged that the Hurricanes’ ability to counter Pittsburgh goals – Carolina did it in 76 seconds after the Penguins’ first, and 25 seconds after their second – was exasperating.
“You get concerned, you get maybe a little frustrated when you take the lead and they keep coming back, coming back,” forward Max Talbot said.
Guerin agreed that “we can be better in that situation, after a goal,” but pointed out that the Hurricanes had something to do with that, too.
“They keep coming and coming,” he said. “You have to give them credit.”
Carolina winger Erik Cole, who had been questionable for Game 2 after getting an unspecified injury on a hit by Pittsburgh Matt Cooke during Game 1, played and ended up logging 14 minutes, 35 seconds of ice time.
The sequence on which Cole was injured was reviewed by the league office, which determined that a suspension was not in order. It is not known if Cooke was fined.
He did, however, say that the nature of his contact with Cole has not been portrayed accurately.
“We didn’t even hit knee-on-knee,” Cooke said. “We hit shin-on-shin.”
Hurricanes winger Tuomo Ruutu, who got a leg injury during Game 1, did not dress for Game 2, but some Hurricanes officials spoke optimistically about him having a chance to return for Game 3 Saturday.
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