Penguins Evgeni Malkin playing like a man possessed

Jason Kopinski/Icon Sportswire

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There is no question who the greatest NHL player in the world is right now. While Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews don’t seem too far away from seizing that title, it still belongs to Sidney Crosby.

But when the Pittsburgh Penguins need an emotional boost, it almost always comes from Evgeni Malkin.

Prior to Game 7 in the second round against the Washington Capitals, Malkin stopped just short of predicting victory. That was considered quite a bit of confidence since the Penguins were coming off back-to-back losses in Games 5 and 6 with the next one on the road.

The rest of the team wasn’t as outwardly confident, but there was a quiet calm in the Pittsburgh locker room before that game. Following the tone Malkin set, the Penguins played a perfect road Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. If the Penguins follow Malkin’s lead one more time Thursday, they will be back in the Stanley Cup Final.

Malkin looked like a man possessed Tuesday night in Game 6, and when that happens, it’s better to stay out of his way. Because at that point, there’s no stopping him.

He failed to score in Games 3 and 4 against the Ottawa Senators, but in the past two games, he has a goal and four points. In Game 6, he dominated, recording a game-high seven shots and 13 faceoff wins, giving him a 72.2 percent success rate at the dot. Malkin had just nine shots and won 38.7 percent of his faceoffs in the first five contests.

Malkin also scored Pittsburgh’s only goal, which was a dandy. He’s had a lot of skillful, highlight reel goals in his career, but the individual effort displayed on the play was tremendous.

This occurred minutes after a coach’s challenge wiped away Trevor Daley’s goal. That likely further fueled the assistant captain.

Just as the final result Tuesday appears to be doing. During his postgame talk with the media, Malkin expressed his disappointment that he only scored once in Game 6. And yet, he was still the most confident player in the room when talking about Game 7.

“We play (the) same game,” he said about the upcoming Game 7, according to DK Pittsburgh Sports, “we win.”

Hard to argue against that when the Penguins outshot the Senators 46–30 and out-attempted them 54–31 on Tuesday. Pittsburgh also returns home, where it won 75.6 percent of its games during the regular season. The Penguins struggled to score in the first two games at PPG Paints Arena in this series but then exploded for seven goals Sunday in Game 5.

In many ways, Senators goaltender Craig Anderson stole Game 6 and forced the decisive battle Thursday. If the Penguins repeat their performance as Malkin says, it’s very likely Anderson won’t stop close to 98 percent of the shots he sees again. Following Malkin’s lead with quiet confidence is the best way to approach Game 7 for all the Penguins.

And one shouldn’t be surprised if №71 plays a big role in helping his team win Thursday. He doesn’t have a goal, but Malkin does have six assists in six Game 7’s.

When Pittsburgh needs him the most, he elevates his game and dominates. Malkin is averaging 1.08 points per playoff game in his career, and this spring, he leads all skaters with 24 postseason points. The only active player with a higher point average during the playoffs is Crosby.

In games where the Penguins can eliminate an opponent this spring, Malkin has two goals and eight points. That’s more than enough to help his team win those contests. Look for a huge performance from №71 on Thursday, and if more Penguins are able to follow his lead or even match their level of play from Tuesday, Pittsburgh has a great chance to win its third straight Game 7.