PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin knows the off-season will begin sometime in the next week, but right now he has another Stanley Cup to win.
So when Malkin was held pointless in Games 3 and 4 of the Final in Nashville, he knew he’d have to step up to help the Pittsburgh Penguins to get back to their winning ways.
“It’s time. It’s a good time to show your best game because there’s only three games left and we have two, three months summertime,” Malkin said on Wednesday after Game 4.
On Thursday night, Malkin was at his best again, scoring his 10th of the playoffs and assisting on another during the Penguins’ 6-0 win over the Nashville Predators. They now lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 in Nashville on Sunday night.
Aside from motivating himself to get back on the scoresheet, Malkin inspired his linemate, Phil Kessel, who hadn’t scored in his last seven games.
Prior to Game 5, Malkin said it was time for Kessel to score again and sure enough, he did, netting Pittsburgh’s fifth goal of the game and adding two assists, including the primary helper on Malkin’s.
“If we not score, you kill me guys,” Malkin joked afterward. “It’s not just me and Phil, it’s whole team did great job tonight. It’s an unbelievable win. We play all 60 minutes, exciting [to come] back home after two losses… Phil, great game, for sure. He was flying tonight. It’s good game but it’s still not done. We need one more game, one more win and we go to Nashville.”
It was the most productive game for Kessel and Malkin since the Penguins’ 7-0 win over the Ottawa Senators in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final. While Malkin hadn’t gone completely quiet as his enjoyed being productive at home – seven goals, 19 points in 13 game at PPG Paints Arena – Kessel had only picked up a pair of assists since that rout last round.
Some were wondering when Kessel would break out again. But Malkin knew the return of Goal Scoring Phil was only a matter of time given how big the stakes were getting.
“We talk a lot. He is a good guy. We [have fun] every day,” Malkin said. “We play in Final, it’s no motivation. We understand it’s one more chance to win. We play against good team. We play at home. He understand. I think each player here understand. It’s no motivation. It’s just only step on ice and play your best game. You need work blocking shot, win face-off, play 100 percent every shift.”
Malkin leads all players in points (26) and is second in goals (10) to Jake Guentzel and in assists (18) to Sidney Crosby. His production throughout these playoffs has him once again in the mix for the another Conn Smythe Trophy. He’s lifting his teammates to be better in many different ways.
“I think everybody knows Geno’s drive within the locker room. We know how great he can be, and when he’s vocal I think that drives him to be better,” said Penguins forward Chris Kunitz. “It pushes people to be better when you say something out loud and know that you have to be called upon to answer those words. When we do that we know that we’re going to get the best from everybody, but we have to go out there to do it again to win another game.”
One more game. That’s all that’s standing in the way of Malkin and the Penguins accomplishing an historic repeat.
“It’s hardest step, I think. It’s always win three games, you close but it’s far,” said Malkin. “It’s toughest win and we understand we play in Nashville; last two games we not play great. We understand it’s loud building, but after this win, I think we have more confidence we [are] feeling, and we go to Nashville to win.”
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