PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin sat glumly at his stall, head in hands, staring downward.
The Stanley Cup is getting away from the Pittsburgh Penguins and No. 71 knows he’s a big reason why.
“I’m pretty frustrated,” Malkin said through his translator Saturday night after his team lost 2-1 to Detroit to go down 3-1 in the NHL’s championship series. “I’m disappointed I haven’t scored any goals. I’m have to work harder.
“If I score one goal, maybe I’ll get away from this streak.”
It might a little too late for that. The Hart Trophy finalist was shut out for the fourth consecutive game of the Cup final, a stunning development for a player that at stretches was the best in the league this season. Without Malkin snapping out of it, the Penguins are a one-line team and that’s much easier for the Red Wings to slow down.
Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby had another good game, setting up his team’s only goal. But his fellow star centre couldn’t deliver. Again.
“I don’t know, he’s battling just like everyone else out there,” Crosby said. “There’s not a lot of room. And to be honest, I don’t think anybody’s really creating that much out there. He’s created a few chances just like everyone else.”
It was honourable of the captain to defend his teammate, but the expression on Malkin after the game said it all. He barely looked up from the floor while reporters peppered him with questions. Apparently there are a dozen different ways of asking: What’s wrong with you?
“In hockey, it happens when you have streaks where you can’t score, you can’t do anything basically,” said Malkin. “You have to work hard and get through it. Hopefully I can score a goal.”
Asked whether he was injured, Malkin responded: “I feel pretty good, I’m pretty healthy.”
When the interview session was over, his shoulders slumped. His translator patted him on the back and said something encouraging in Russian.
“He’s a guy with a lot of character,” said teammate Maxime Talbot, standing a few feet away. “I’m sure he’s going to bounce back. If it goes to the limit, there’s still three games to play for him. I think he gets a lot of criticism because he played so good before.
“But you look at the rest of the guys, it’s not only this guy that needs to score goals.”
The Penguins must be more opportunistic with the limited chances they’re getting.
“We’re going to have to focus on finishing these chances,” said Talbot. “It’s nice to have some chances but that won’t win you a game.”
The Wings played a stifling defensive game, much like the two opening affairs in Detroit. Malkin wasn’t the only one struggling to find open ice.
“It was extremely tough to go through the neutral zone,” said winger Marian Hossa, who scored Pittsburgh’s lone goal.
The key moment came when Pittsburgh wasted a 5-on-3 power play which lasted 1:26 midway through the third period, unable to produce the tying goal.
“We needed that goal on the 5-on-3 and didn’t get it,” said Hossa. “You have to give them credit, they played really well on the PK. But we have to definitely be better.
“It seems like sometimes we’re uptight. We just have to relax more – that’s when good things happen.”