Good luck trying to top Evgeni Malkin's summer. Especially since his summer will also include a 30th birthday bash.
And where will that be?
“Moscow? Pittsburgh? All places,” Malkin said Sunday night while celebrating a second Stanley Cup victory with the Penguins.
Though he failed to register a point (and, in fact, registered a minus-1 rating) in the Penguins' 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center, Malkin made his mark on another Stanley Cup Final. He finished the six games in the series with a couple of goals and an assist, giving him 14 points in 19 career Cup Final contests.
Not bad for somebody who went without a point in his first four Cup Final games.
It was not long ago that Malkin wondered what he could contribute to these Penguins. Damaged elbow ligaments that forced him to miss the final month of the regular season at times limited his ability to control and shoot pucks. Also, the wingers he had played with before the injury – Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel – belonged to another center when Malkin returned for Game 2 of Round 1.
A talk with coach Mike Sullivan did Malkin a world of good before his return. During the conversation, Sullivan flatly told Malkin that he was an important part of the Penguins.
Also (and Malkin reiterated on Sunday night that he had needed to hear this from his coach), Sullivan said why Malkin was important.
“Yeah, Mike says, ‘You're great player who can make points with everybody,'” Malkin said.
“If he doesn't tell me (that), maybe I lose confidence for good. I don't know.”
By the Cup Final, Malkin was playing on a line with wingers Chris Kunitz and Bryan Rust. The former is the Penguins' eldest holdover from their 2009 Cup club. The latter began the season – along with Sullivan and a handful of other key contributors – in the AHL.
Both wingers, however, fit with Malkin by sticking to a north-south style of hockey. Malkin conceded that his wingers' consistency in their game settled him during the times when his injury was on his mind.
A lot was on his mind.
His fiancé, Anna Kasterova, was pregnant. Malkin knew that a boy would be born during the Cup Final. Nikita arrived the day before Game 2 against San Jose. After the contest, upon returning to UPMC Magee hospital, Malkin hurriedly ran from door to door before finally finding an after-hours entrance.
He spent that morning with his loves. When the Penguins arrived in San Jose last weekend, Malkin spent much of his free time checking on Anna and Nikita via video conferencing.
Though Malkin and Kasterova are Russians, Nikita is a dual citizen of Russia and the United States. But, as Malkin proudly noted during the Cup Final, “he is Pittsburgh(er).”
Can Nikita expect to spend some time in the Cup's bowl on Malkin's day with Stanley's chalice? The smile on Malkin's face gave away the answer he would not share.
What Malkin did share is that he plans to spend much of his summer in Pittsburgh, where he and Kasterova will be married.
As for Malkin's Cup day, he is hoping it can again be July 31. That's his birthday. Seven years ago, he spent it with the Cup, family and friends in his Russian hometown of Magnitogorsk.
The plan for this summer is to throw a party in Moscow, where Malkin and best friend (and Penguins defenseman development coach) Sergei Gonchar own apartments.
“I'm very proud of how they have developed,” Gonchar said of Malkin and fellow Penguins' franchise center Sidney Crosby. “They've become great players, which of course we all knew was going to happen. But they've also become great leaders.
“I think they've done everything that is necessary to win the Cup. I mean, if you look at them, sacrificing the goals. Now they've become men.”
What cannot be ignored of Malkin's 10th NHL season is the growth he showed as an outspoken member of an organization he loves. It was Malkin who publicly called attention to perceived problems after an early-season loss at New Jersey. It was, he said, a low point of his tenure.
“It was a great year, but a tough year,” Malkin said on Sunday night. “I've lost (a) lot of energy, (had) a lot of emotion.
“I'm glad the season is over like this. I'm (getting) married. My son. It's a great summer.”