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Penguins star center Malkin uneasy about NHL Playoff start

| Sunday, May 12, 2013, 7:36 p.m.
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The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) looks to pass the puck as the Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov (20) defends his goal during the third period of Game 6 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on May 11, 2013, in Uniondale, N.Y.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Evgeni Malkin is uneasy about his play so far this postseason.

He also is the Penguins' leading scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I could say it's going good, but (Game 6), like the rest, was probably up and down,” Malkin said after he set up the Penguins' tying and winning goal against the New York Islanders on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.

“I'm happy to win, but I can do more, play better.”

Malkin finished the series with 11 points, giving him 19 in his last 12 playoff games. That is a 1.58 per-game average.

He averaged 1.5 points during the 2009 playoffs, which he finished with 36 in 24 games and won the MVP for the Penguins' Cup run.

However, Malkin said he does not feel like he is at his 2009 postseason form or his level from last regular season, when he won the MVP and a second scoring title.

An injured left shoulder that may require offseason surgery has prevented Malkin from practicing most of the last two months.

He has refused to use it as an excuse, but he is equally uncomfortable with a shot that is weakened and the fewer opportunities to fine tune his game.

Teammates believe Malkin's lingering disappointment is actually a good thing because it shows his understanding of what, besides scoring, will help the Penguins win.

They know that scoring part is important, too, though.

“Sometimes you get overwhelmed as a player — and as a young guy, too, you do try to do too much,” right winger Jarome Iginla said.

“The focus is to just do our jobs.”

Malkin's No. 1 job is to create offense, coach Dan Bylsma said.

Still, Malkin lamented his six credited giveaways in the series. He has tried too often to do too much on his own to help the Penguins, especially early in periods and when the contests were tight.

“I don't know, I (am) maybe a little nervous at the start,” Malkin said. “But when I play with the puck (in games), I feel a lot better.”

Malkin said the point during Game 6 when he was least nervous was late, when the favored Penguins trailed by a goal and faced a possible pressure-packed Game 7 that would have been played at Consol Energy Center on Sunday.

His hitch-and-hop move to build momentum before looping behind the Islanders' goal then finding Paul Martin open at the point led to the tying goal — and, winger Pascal Dupuis agreed, it required nerve by Malkin to contemplate, let alone try.

It was a play that, really, only one other player on the Penguins could have pulled off.

“I think we both know that's our job in those situations,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “We feel that responsibility to make plays for our team.”

Malkin half-smiled and tilted his head to the left.

Iginla said the shared sense of responsibility that Malkin and Crosby feel to elevate the Penguins in their moments of need is not easily relatable for people who have not been considered a franchise player.

Iginla was that player for at least a dozen of his 16 years with Calgary, where he was captain before joining the Penguins in a March trade.

“We all put pressure on ourselves to perform and be at our best and help,” Iginla said. “But at the same time, there's a little bit less pressure for me here because you look over and it's shared by Sid and Geno.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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