From the Associated Press –
Sidney Crosby relied on his rare combination of talent and determination to take over the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff series against Washington. Evgeni Malkin is looking to duplicate the performance.
So far he’s doing it, and the Carolina Hurricanes aren’t doing much to slow him down.
Malkin took the Penguins back to the Mario Lemieux days of run-and-gun hockey, when high-scoring games were common and opposing goalies barely had a chance, by scoring three goals and setting up another as Pittsburgh surged to a 7-4 victory over Carolina in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.
“It was a great game for me,” Malkin said.
So far, it’s Malkin and Crosby 2, Hurricanes 0 as the teams head to Raleigh for Game 3 on Saturday night. Right now, returning home appears to be the Hurricanes’ best chance of getting back into a series the Penguins’ stars are controlling with their one-on-one play, speed and playmaking skills.
“I’m trying to play every game hard and smart,” Malkin said.
Malkin played this one like a man determined to make certain the Penguins get another chance to lift the Stanley Cup they couldn’t win during a six-game finals against Detroit last season. The Penguins and Red Wings are halfway home to a rematch, with Detroit taking a 2-0 lead into Chicago for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals on Friday night.
Malkin’s third goal, which gave Pittsburgh the first two-goal lead at 6-4 in the third period, came less than four minutes after his go-ahead goal. It was Malkin at his best, scoring off a set play coach Dan Bylsma said is called The Geno, after Malkin’s nickname.
The Penguins won a faceoff in the Carolina zone, and Malkin tracked the puck into the corner. He raced behind the net, spun and put a backhander past Cam Ward before the goalie could react for Malkin’s first career three-goal playoff game and 10th goal of the playoffs. Crosby called it “an amazing goal.”
“It was a great shot,” Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. “I don’t know who saves that. He’s a great player and great players, eventually they break out. Today was his day it seemed like.”
With four goals in two games against Carolina, Malkin â€” the NHL regular-season scoring champion â€” has surged past Crosby to take the playoffs scoring lead, 25-24. Crosby had eight goals and five assists for 13 points as the Penguins came back from a 2-0 deficit to win the conference semifinal series against Washington.
Malkin, who has four goals and two assists against Carolina, seemed to be a different player following a skirmish with Chad LaRose midway through the game. From then on, Malkin seemed determined to try to score on every shift â€” and, for a while in the third, he did that.
As hats poured onto the ice following Malkin’s third goal, his parents, Vladimir and Natalia, hugged and kissed in the stands.
“I just tried to shoot every shift and tried to score and some of them went in,” Malkin said. “It was good.”
Not for Ward, it wasn’t. He had a 1.18 goals-against average while winning his last five Game 2s, yet Crosby and Malkin set the tone for the unexpectedly high-scoring game by getting a goal apiece less than nine minutes into the game. Crosby also added an assist.
After the teams went back-and-forth for two periods, tying each other four times, it was all Malkin in the third period.
“You’re not going to be able to do it one-on-one,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said of trying to slow Malkin and Crosby with individual play. “We struggled a little bit with some of that in our own end. We left them alone at times, one-on-one with a player.”
Defenseman Tim Gleason said it’s not like the Hurricanes don’t know who they should be defending.
“Everyone knows who those guys are, and we need to do a better job than that,” he said.
Maybe Bill Cowher, of all people, will help the Hurricanes get back on their game.
The former Steelers coach is scheduled to blow the arena foghorn during Game 4, just as he did during Game 3 in each of the first two rounds.
After resigning in 2007, the North Carolina State alum relocated to Raleigh and became a Hurricanes fan. Cowher’s lack of loyalty to his hometown Penguins is causing a stir in Pittsburgh.
Then again, if Malkin and Crosby keep playing this way in Carolina, Cowher might be tempted to change his loyalties.
Even after the Hurricanes gave up 10 goals in two road games, Gleason promised the stretched-out series will return to Pittsburgh for Game 5 a week from Friday.
“This isn’t going to be a four-game series, I’ll tell you that,” Gleason said.
The Hurricanes’ bigger worry might be that it remains a two-man series.