If he tried really hard, Evgeni Malkin could think up a thing or two that could have gone better on the night he became the 88th player in NHL history to record 1,000 career points.
The milestone moment could have come on one of those trademark Malkin goals where he gallops through the neutral zone, splits the defense and gets a crowd on its feet, as opposed to a secondary assist.
It could have come in the first period rather than the third, so it didn’t happen after his 2-year-old son Nikita’s bedtime.
When all was said and done, though, Malkin was in no mood to quibble.
He was in the mood to celebrate and reflect on a great moment in his legendary career after his pair of power-play assists helped the Penguins to a 5-3 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
“A thousand points, it’s a crazy number, for sure,” Malkin said. “Growing up in a small city, I never (thought) I’d play in the NHL and score 1,000 points. It’s probably a special day for my hometown, too. First guy to make 1,000 points, win a Stanley Cup. I’m so glad.”
Malkin reached the milestone in a crucial late-season win over one of his team’s longest-standing rivals.
The victory helped the Penguins move one step closer to a playoff berth. They are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, four points behind the first-place Capitals with 12 games to play.
“It’s two huge points, and I make 1,000 points. It’s absolutely an amazing night for me. It’s like one of the best nights of my life, for sure,” Malkin said, noting his parents and wife were in attendance.
On a night when two of their nearest rivals for the last few playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, Columbus and Montreal, secured wins, the Penguins fell behind 2-0 midway through the second period on a pair of Jakub Vrana goals.
Their comeback began when Jared McCann stripped a puck from Evgeny Kuznetsov and started a successful two-on-one with Jake Guentzel. It continued when Sidney Crosby beat defenseman Michal Kempny to a long, high lob from Justin Schultz and jammed a puck between the pads of goalie Braden Holtby to make it 2-2.
That’s when Malkin stepped into the spotlight.
Thirty-one seconds after the tying goal, Nicklas Backstrom tripped Malkin, and the Penguins took to the power play.
Having used split power-play units for the team’s first two advantages of the game, coach Mike Sullivan loaded up his top group on this occasion.
“I keep going back to them because I believe in them,” Sullivan said.
It worked the way it often has over the past four seasons, with Malkin feeding Phil Kessel on the left wing and Kessel passing between the legs of defenseman John Carlson to Crosby for a one-timer from the right faceoff dot.
It worked again in the third period on the play that gave Malkin his 1,000th point. He fed Schultz for a shot from the center point, and Kessel cashed in the rebound to make it 4-2.
“Last game, we absolutely (were) so bad on the power play,” Malkin said. “Tonight, we started on different lines, me and Sid. After first period, coach switch again. If we score on the power play, we help the team win. It’s huge. We have five unbelievable players. Every game, we have a chance to help the team to win.”
It wasn’t the first time Malkin helped spark his team to victory with a show of power-play skill. It surely won’t be the last.
“It’s a crazy life,” Malkin said. “It’s not over. I’ll just work next game. Keep going.”