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Starkey: Malkin-stein on a tear

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Evgeni Malkin has created a monster.


Call him Young Malkin-stein.

People see what he did to the Washington Capitals in Game 3 and what he did to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2, and they want to see it — or something close to it — every night.

Which is patently ludicrous.

The kind of performance Malkin delivered Thursday at Mellon Arena comes around about as often as a Pirates playoff game, even for the greats.

It might have been the finest postseason performance by a Penguins' player (non-goaltender) since the Cup years of 1991 and '92.

From this vantage point, it was the best since an injured Jaromir Jagr willed the eighth-seeded Penguins past top-seeded New Jersey in Game 6 of a first-round series in 1999 (the Penguins completed the upset in Game 7).

Malkin didn't just register the 10th playoff hat trick in Penguins' history. He also made a maniacal dash into the defensive zone to help kill a second-period penalty — stripping defenseman Joe Corvo of the puck — and delivered a subtle yet incredibly skilled pass to set up Max Talbot's second-period goal (just as Malkin absorbed a heavy check at center ice, he turned himself into a pool-table bumper, letting the puck carom off his stick for a one-time pass that hit Talbot in stride).

Ed Johnston, the Penguins' 74-year-old senior advisor and walking encyclopedia of franchise history, had a familiar gleam in his eye as he strolled through the dressing room after the 7-4 victory.

Malkin remind you of anyone, E.J.?

"Oh, geez, that 66 guy," Johnston said, referring, of course, to Mario Lemieux. "Wasn't that something• How'd you like that third goal• Very few guys in this league will ever score a goal like that."

Like Lemieux, Malkin doesn't so much skate as swoop . He sees the ice as if he is sitting 100 rows up and comes down on defenders like a Pterodactyl.

"Scary," Johnston said. "He just controls the game. He doesn't give up the puck. That's what Mario would do. He would hold onto it and find somebody open or make a play himself."

With that, E.J. giddily moved along but not before adding, "God, he was unbelievable."

I didn't know if he meant Mario or Malkin-stein, but what did it matter?

If Malkin records multiple points in Game 3 tonight, he will be the first player to do so in six straight games since the modern playoff format was adopted in 1994.

Though the playoffs don't allow much time for reflection, it seems only right to go back, one more time, to Malkin's three goals. Each was a thing of beauty, wondrous to behold in person and even better on television replay later that night.

Several looks were required to reveal the detailed brilliance of each goal:

• On the first, Malkin jumped off the bench to replace Jordan Staal while the Penguins controlled the puck in Carolina's end. He sped past Jordan's brother, Eric, who tried to slow him with a stick to the gut, then split Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney like a sprinter crossing the finish line. Tyler Kennedy made sure his stuff-in attempt turned into a rebound, and Malkin bounced in to bat it home.

• On the second, Malkin worked past some interference to keep the puck alive in the corner. He then made defenseman Tim Gleason look like Jackie Gleason, using a strong and quick stick to whack in his own rebound for a 5-4 lead.

• The coup de grace was goal No. 3, when Malkin pushed the puck forward on a faceoff against Matt Cullen, retrieved it in the corner and raced around the net before whipping a no-look backhander past goalie Cam Ward's left shoulder and under the crossbar.

It was rated the No. 1 play on ESPN's Top 10 that night.

It might well have been a top-10 goal in Penguins' playoff history.

"Oh, he shoots and scores!" Mike Lange bellowed on the Penguins' radio broadcast. "And Cam Ward just lost his liquor license!"

Drink it in, Penguins fans. Drink it in.

Just don't expect it every night.

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