Friday, April 22, 2016

Motivated Malkin answers challenge

April 21, 2016
Evgeni Malkin scores to give the Penguins a 4-0 lead in the second period. 

NEW YORK — The King was chased.
Doesn't mean The King is dead.
So before writing the New York Rangers' obituary by dismissing the player who makes them great, remember what was being said only a couple of days ago about a similarly great for the Penguins.
“Of course, I think (about it) when I'm not playing and the team wins, uh, 15 games, and when I came back we lost the first one,” Evgeni Malkin said. “It's very upsetting for me.
“But I know I can help the team. I know I can help the power play. And my line can play better.
“I know I can help the team to win every game.”
With Malkin's help, the Penguins are one win from bouncing the Rangers from the Stanley Cup playoffs. He contributed on four of the Penguins' goals in a 5-0 victory at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
It had been a while — way, way, way too long, actually — since Malkin made a mark when it mattered like he did in Game 4.
His sound passes set up a couple of Penguins first-period strikes, and his sharp shot ended any suspense early in the second. When he scored another goal in the third period, it sure seemed as though No. 71 was sending a message.
Count me out? Bad job, guys.
Even before he returned for Game 2 last weekend, Malkin had been dealt a raw deal by way too many Penguins supporters. There was way too much talk about chemistry, as if an intangible made all the difference the last time a hot finish in the regular season carried over into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It didn't. Neither did Malkin.
But he made most of the difference seven years ago. Or did everybody forget the first Penguin to be handed a trophy on the ice at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena on that night of June 12, 2009?
It was Malkin. The trophy was the Conn Smythe.
And, for whatever it's worth, Malkin's four points Thursday night were the most he had recorded in any postseason contest since Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference final.
He was better that night than in Game 4 against the Rangers.
He was healthier, too.
Despite his suggestions otherwise, the torn elbow ligaments Malkin is playing with are hurting him and various aspects of his offensive game. Believe it or not, even Thursday night there were signs of his struggle to control, move and fire pucks.
His elbow isn't going to fully heal by the end of the playoffs.
His approach had to completely change between Games 3 and 4. Coach Mike Sullivan made that clear on the day between those games, calling for Malkin to simplify and play within the system — if not his own limitations.
It's great hearing about a Penguins coach challenging Malkin. Michel Therrien, the one-time Penguins coach who coaxed the most consistent performances from Malkin, often used that tactic with great success.
To know Malkin is to study his entire hockey career, not rely on outdated stereotypes of Russian-born hockey players. He's been extremely coachable. He's been extraordinarily attuned to what his teams have needed from him.
All Malkin has ever needed was for a coach to speak directly about expectations of him. Sullivan did, and one shift Thursday night showed how receptive Malkin was to that message.
On the shift, he forechecked deep in the offensive zone then blocked a shot at the other end. Then, back in the offensive zone, he stickhandled with the puck (but only sparingly), and also astutely put one toward the net.
It was simple but sensational in its own way.
It was playoff hockey, and it looked good coming from Malkin.
It's also looking good for the Penguins, but there's still one game to win.
And if you don't think Rangers all-everything goalie HenrikLundqvist will be better in Game 5 on Saturday night, you weren't paying attention to Malkin in Game 4.
When challenged — and motivated — the great ones respond.
Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.

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