So that’s what Evgeni Malkin looks like when he’s mad.
Malkin played like a Penguin with a pebble in his flipper right from the moment he stepped out of the box for a penalty stemming from an odd, angry exchange with Chad LaRose in the second period of Pittsburgh’s 7-4 Game 2 win over Carolina Thursday.
Forget the beautiful goal Malkin scored to bag the hat trick, it’s the way he scored his first two goals that is really impressive. The big Russian took a page from Sidney Crosby’s book, driving hard to the net on both tallies. In the first period he made a beeline to the crease from the bench after a change, swatting home a loose puck. Then, on the game-winner, he was once again swarming the net when a rebound came to his stick and he closed out the play.
A whack of Crosby’s playoff-leading 13 goals have come from close in, including the one that opened the scoring in Thursday night’s game.
Malkin’s final goal was confirmation of what we all knew; this guy is tremendously talented. But the technique he used to fashion his first two markers is an even better sign for the Pens’ Cup chances.
As for Carolina, when four guys other than Eric Staal score in a game, you’ve got to think the Hurricanes expect to win.
It would be folly to pin the loss on Cam Ward, but the reality is he needs to be a huge factor in the game if his team is going to win at this advanced stage of the post-season.
The Canes, now down 2-0 in the East final, were unable to win a sixth straight Game 2 on the heels of a Game 1 loss. We won’t count Carolina out yet, but the fundamental flaw in always trying to come from behind is that you probably weren’t playing well enough to begin with.
A few other items while we wait for Game 3:
• The importance of Kris Letang’s emergence is being underscored by the fact Sergei Gonchar is clearly enduring some lingering affects of his knee-on-knee collision with Alex Ovechkin in the last round. Letang is confident stepping up at the offensive blueline, carrying the puck and his shot, while not quite at Gonchar’s level yet, is nothing to sneeze at.
• If you told me eight months ago Joni Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg would form a formidable pair at this time of year, I’d have assumed they played tennis together in their spare time and were thinking of entering the French Open.
I, like Philadelphia and Edmonton, had given up on Pitkanen, but he’s starting to look like the classic late-blooming defenseman. His 20:59 of even-strength ice time per contest led everyone in the playoffs entering Thursday night’s game. With an age that matches the No. 25 on his sweater, the Canes, on their most optimistic days, must be hoping Pitkanen can still develop into a Tomas Kaberle or Kimmo Timonen-type blueliner.
Seidenberg, meanwhile, was an accomplished tennis player growing up in Germany and he’s sure showing what he can do on the ice now. He scored his first playoff goal in Game 2, but what’s really attention-grabbing is the physical edge he’s played with all spring.
• Pittsburgh is blessed to have Malkin and Jordan Staal as its No. 2 and No. 3 centers, but it’s incredible to think the Pens used to have a guy who was basically both players in one. You can see him standing on the Carolina bench, where Ron Francis is an assistant coach with the Hurricanes. You don’t earn a nickname like ‘Ronnie Franchise’ without exceptional skills at both ends of the rink and Francis was one of the best two-way pivots ever to lace ’em up.
• TSN’s game coverage is top-notch right from witty host James Duthie’s first wisecrack through crack analyst Pierre McGuire’s selection of the ‘monster performer.’ Play-by-play man Gord Miller is a great blend of natural enthusiasm and insight, the intermission panel is always engaging, entertaining and informative, and ice-level reporter Ryan Rishaug is a smooth as they come conducting interviews between periods.
He also relayed a great story about how Eric Staal, unable to find a cab after watching a movie with his wife and friends during an off-night in Pittsburgh, had no choice but to call brother Jordan for a lift, breaking a no-communication pact the siblings had set for the series.
Truly a great job by all.
THN.com’s Playoff Blogs, featuring analysis and opinion on the action from the night before and the games ahead, with insight on what happened and what it all means going forward, will appear daily throughout the NHL playoffs. Read more entries HERE.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.