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By Josh Yohe
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 11:24 a.m.
 

Evgeni Malkin was the topic of an answer in an episode of “Jeopardy” that aired on Tuesday night.

Another question may have been answered a couple of hours later.

Is Malkin — the version who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2009 and the Hart Trophy in 2012 — back?

His performance in a 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Ottawa Senators was a resounding yes. Malkin produced a goal and an assist and was a force throughout. More importantly, the sloppiness and turnovers that plagued his game against the New York Islanders essentially were eliminated.

Coach Dan Bylsma said he “absolutely” liked hearing Malkin acknowledge he can play at a higher level — something Malkin said after Game 6 of Round 1.

Bylsma especially liked that Malkin backed up his words against the Senators.

“He knows that he turned over a puck that led to a goal that cost our team on Long Island,” Bylsma said, referring to Malkin's turnover that led to John Tavares' goal in a Game 4 loss.

“When he talks about being better, it's because he knows. That's very good, and he was very good (Tuesday against the Senators) — in the defensive zone, around the net and with the puck.”

Malkin said he wasn't satisfied with his performance against Ottawa but acknowledged he is headed in the proper direction.

“I had 11 points (against the Islanders), but I had a couple of bad turnovers,” Malkin said. “I need to work on my D-zone more. I don't see points. I see my game on both sides. I can't score every game. But when I play better in the D-zone, that's important to me.”

Malkin was dynamic in all three zones against Ottawa.

He set up Paul Martin's early goal on the power play, and before the first period was over, Malkin scored one of his own.

His forechecking was strong all game as the center forced several turnovers without committing one of his own.

“I'm trying to play my best game,” Malkin said. “It was a little better. No turnovers. Just trying to play simple.”

If Malkin's teammates are displeased with his occasionally erratic play, they aren't showing it.

Right wing Jarome Iginla reacted curiously when it was suggested Malkin hasn't been at his best this postseason.

“In this postseason?” Iginla asked.

The former Calgary star said he sees nothing but brilliance in Malkin's game.

“Oh, I think he's been great for us this postseason,” Iginla said. “Unfortunately at times, you'll see a mistake here or there. But he's been great. He came out tonight off the bat and was a game-changer in Game 5 and Game 6. I didn't hear that (talk of Malkin's poor play). I think he's been great, and he continued that tonight.”

Malkin seemed at his best with regular linemates James Neal and Chris Kunitz, who set up his first-period goal. Kunitz said he senses Malkin is on the verge of playing his finest hockey.

“He creates so much momentum for our team,” Kunitz said. “We all have to learn from our turnovers. Everybody makes mistakes. Geno's a guy who makes up for them five-fold. He's just such a threat. It's a lot of fun to watch when he gets it going. Hopefully the trend will continue.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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