Penguins stars Crosby, Malkin ready to seize moment
Dan Bylsma knows the look of greatness in the postseason.
He will not say if he has seen it from Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
“There's some tell signs that you occasionally do get from both those guys, and I'm not going to tell you if I've seen them or not or, really, say what those might be,” Bylsma said Friday.
Crosby and Malkin look primed for the Eastern Conference final, which opens at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.
The tell sign came Wednesday in practice. During a faceoff drill, the MegaPowers went at one another.
Malkin cheated at every chance. Crosby countered by going lower, quickening his stick movement.
Crosby won all three faceoffs. An hour after practice, Malkin returned to the ice, firing weighted pucks against the boards using his backhand.
Greatness does not come easy, and the opportunity to grab it does not happen often.
Crosby and Malkin have lived the learning of that lesson over the last three NHL seasons. The Boston Bruins — big and bad by reputation; battered on the back end by a seven-game opening round against Toronto — stand between them and their first Cup Final since 2009.
Crosby and Malkin are the Penguins' franchise pillars, their highest-paid players, their former MVPs/scoring champions. They expect to be the difference at this stage.
That they have not had to be yet is a testament to general manager Ray Shero's deep roster, Bylsma's proficiency at managing high-profile forwards and the standout performance of Tomas Vokoun (1.85 goals-against average, .941 save percentage) since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury as starting goalie in Round 1.
Crosby is tied for the playoffs lead with seven goals. His 15 points are third, trailing the co-team lead of Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, each at 16.
“There's been spurts of dominance by each guy,” left winger Chris Kunitz said.
In Round 2, Crosby turned a hat trick in Game 2, and Malkin played hash-to-hash while scoring a goal and setting up one by winger James Neal in Game 5.
Malkin said Friday there is a higher level for him and Crosby.
Kunitz is one of nine players on this roster who witnessed that level four years ago, when Malkin and Crosby finished first and second among scorers, combining for 29 goals and 67 points in 24 playoff games.
The 2009 playoffs marked the most recent time Crosby and Malkin were relatively healthy for a postseason run and, by no coincidence, the Penguins had not won two rounds since.
Crosby (jaw) and Malkin (left shoulder) are not at full health, but they remain the dual threat that most concerns Bruins coach Claude Julien. He is considering splitting his top defensive pairing, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, so that one can always play against either Crosby or Malkin.
Malkin said he expects to see a lot of Chara, a former Norris Trophy (top defenseman) winner.
“He's big and strong,” Malkin said. “But if we play a little bit deep behind him, maybe we have a chance. Just use my speed ... and a little bit, maybe, (shoot) more.”
Malkin and Crosby are tied for second in the playoffs with 46 shots apiece, but Malkin has clicked at only 8.7 percent.
However, he has spent extra time on the ice this week working on his shot, which he has said was limited by the shoulder injury.
Bylsma said he expects Julien to match center Patrice Bergeron — a Selke Trophy (top defensive forward) finalist — against Crosby, as has proven the rule for past regular-season meetings between the Bruins and Penguins.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock played top center Henrik Zetterberg against Crosby during the 2009 Final. Bylsma's instructions to Crosby then were to skate Zetterberg into exhaustion. Zetterberg, the playoff MVP the previous postseason, scored just two goals over the final four games of that 2009 Cup Final, won by the Penguins in seven games.
“It looked as though the Zetterberg line was trying to shut down Crosby's line and keep them off the board, and in turn, he spent a lot of his energy, a lot of energy doing so,” Bylsma said. “That energized Sid to win that matchup.”
Dating to the four-month lockout, Crosby has carried himself like a player possessed to find the silver lining to that dark cloud from his concussion period (January 2011-March 2012).
A day before the biggest playoff series he has played dating to four years ago, Crosby looked to be absolutely aware of the opportunity in front of him and Malkin.
“You've got to make sure you take advantage of the chances you get,” Crosby said.