Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins faces off during the second period of Game Two of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on May 31, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvannia. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
On a rare off day deep in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan took a moment Thursday to appreciate the talents of superstar center Evgeni Malkin.
Capping off a three-goal, third-period outburst that led the Penguins to a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators the night before by scoring on a two-on-one with Phil Kessel, Malkin lengthened his lead over teammate Sidney Crosby in the NHL postseason scoring race.
Malkin has 26 points, including goals in each of the first two games of the final series, four points up on Crosby. Malkin has recorded at least one point in 16 of 21 playoff games. He has recorded more than one point in seven of them.
The Penguins lead the series 2-0, with Game 3 set for Saturday night in Nashville.
“I think his play speaks for itself,” Sullivan said. “He's one of those guys that we have on our team that has the ability to make a difference in one or two shifts. You saw that (in Game 2), although I thought he competed hard most of the night. The goal he scored is a goal scorer's goal. I think that's just the indication of the skill level that he has and the elite player that he is.”
Sullivan spoke to reporters via conference call as the team enjoyed a rare day off.
The NHL built in travel days to the Stanley Cup Final schedule, so every time the series switches venues, there will be a two-day break.
The Penguins had two days off between games only once in the first three rounds of the playoffs, getting the extra day between Games 4 and 5 of the Washington series.
“From our standpoint, it gives our team an opportunity to get a little bit of a rest so that we can reset our mindset here for Game 3,” Sullivan said.
Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes a shot during the second period of Game Two of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on May 31, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvannia. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Last year, the Penguins won the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, had an extra day off for travel to San Jose and lost Game 3 in overtime.
“I think our players have a certain level of perspective because of the experiences they've been through,” Sullivan said. “They understand we accomplished what we wanted to starting at home, but they understand Game 3 is a new game. It's a new challenge. We have to just focus on the task at hand.
“We're not going to dwell on the games we just played. We're going to try to learn from those experiences and then we're going to move by it.”