Cross Checks: Evgeni Malkin

Trick or treat: Crosby in costume, Subban a 'Thriller'

October, 23, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- The emotions following the New York Rangers’ historic 2-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins could not be contained.

One by one, players left the ice, barreling into the dressing room in haste to celebrate, screaming in elation and hollering with the sort of exuberance one might expect following one of the most dramatic turnarounds in franchise history.

Even team owner James Dolan couldn’t suppress his giddy grin as he was ushered down the victor’s hallway following the series-ending win. He had plenty to smile about.

[+] EnlargeNew York Rangers
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesThe Ranger rallied around St. Louis and took this series from the Penguins.
For the first time since the club’s inception, the Rangers rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to upset an opponent in Game 7. And for the second time in three years, the team is headed to the Eastern Conference finals.

“It’s a pretty fun thing we’ve got going on right now,” said Brian Boyle, who scored the first goal of the game following a beautiful passing sequence from his fourth-line teammates. “We don’t want it to end.”

More stunning than the Rangers’ ability to avoid elimination in three straight games against superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pens was the club’s utter transformation in wake of a tragedy that occurred between Games 4 and 5.

That, of course, was the turning point of the series, perhaps the most meaningful 24 hours in the team’s whole season, when the Rangers banded together to support veteran forward Martin St. Louis, who found out upon arrival in Pittsburgh on Thursday that his mother had died from a heart attack.

His courageous and heartfelt return to the ice in Game 5, less than 24 hours after her death, inspired the Rangers, but that was just one game. The Rangers were able to carry over that raw emotion, that passion and purpose, into Game 6 is well, a win that became even more meaningful because St. Louis scored the all-important first goal and because the game fell on Mother’s Day.

When it came down to Game 7, the Rangers did not need to manufacture any inspiration or energy. They had that in abundance and, unlike the pressure-burdened Penguins, they played with verve and joy and had a hell of a time in punching their ticket to the conference finals, in which they will meet the winner of Game 7 between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins.

“The whole last seven days. I don’t know if I’ve ever been with a group of guys that have been through what we’ve been through,” veteran center Brad Richards said. “Nobody gave us a chance. Marty’s situation falls upon us. It wasn’t a good feeling after Game 4. To have this feeling, after all that, it shows how fun this group is to be around. Everyone’s willing to do their part. It’s unbelievable.”

The daunting two-game series deficit was never treated as a non-starter for the Blueshirts. Led by veterans such as Richards and St. Louis, who won a Stanley Cup championship together in 2004 in Tampa, the situation was instead treated as a challenge.

The belief was there inside that room and the leadership was calm and steady in showing everyone else the way. Richards, as he has done all season but especially since the departure of former captain Ryan Callahan, stepped up in every situation, saying what needed to be said, even when it wasn't pleasant to say or easy to hear, and leading by example on the ice as well.

“I gotta say. We lost our captain. We brought in Marty [St. Louis], but other guys stepped to the front and assumed more in bigger roles, and bigger leadership,” Vigneault said. “In this series, we had said we needed a lot of bus drivers and we had a lot of guys driving the bus.”

The 34-year-old Richards, who has assumed the rule of de facto captain, scored the game-winner in the second-period, a critical man-up marker that quickly sieved the mounting pressure the Pens had built following Jussi Jokinen’s tying goal less than four minutes prior.

It was just another clutch performance in a long list of special moments for the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and it kept his pristine record in Game 7s untarnished. The veteran center has won all seven in which he has played.

Suffice it to say that franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was simply exceptional in continuing his dominance in elimination games as well, outplaying every other player on the ice.

In a series that came down to three veritable game-changers: Lundqvist vs. Crosby and Malkin, the former Vezina Trophy winner edged the Penguins' talented tandem by a country mile. Following up a 36-save effort in Game 6, Lundqvist finished Tuesday with 35. And of course he was at his absolute best with the Penguins bearing down in the final minutes of the game, even when he was flailing in the crease, trying to preserve a one-goal lead without his stick.

Crosby was held to just one goal all series. Malkin was more effective (three goals, four assists) but couldn’t deliver the type of goal the Penguins needed most in a winner-takes-all Game 7 at home.

The Rangers entered the series as underdogs, but they emerged as winners because they were the better team. They exploited their balance and structure and heart to beat a team that has two of the best forwards in the world.

Now, they move on to the next round -- a remarkable feat.

Few people expected them to be here. Who knows what they are capable of now?

“We’re in the final four now,” Richards said. “I don’t know of any teams in the history of the NHL that get this far that don’t think they can win it.”
PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers made history Tuesday night, rallying back from a 3-1 series hole to knock off the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 with a 2-1 win that earned them a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.

It was the first time in franchise history the club had surmounted such a deficit, and in doing so, the Blueshirts punched their ticket for their second conference finals appearance in the past three seasons.

In a battle of the stars it was the Rangers who had the edge when all was said and done, with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist besting both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Despite constant pressure from a desperate Pens squad, Lundqvist was a wall in making 35 stops to secure yet another win for his Blueshirts while avoiding elimination. He didn't even surrender a goal in the final six minutes of the game when, despite being without his stick during a frenzied shift, he left the Penguins gobsmacked with frustration.

Crosby finished the series, and the 2014 playoffs, with just one goal.

Big-goal Brad: Hard to imagine that at this point last spring, veteran center Brad Richards was watching games from the press box as a healthy scratch. The former Conn Smythe winner added to his already-lengthy list of clutch goals with a key power-play marker in the second that stalled a threatening Penguins push and allowed the Rangers to reclaim a one-goal lead. Richards was set up for the goal by a brilliant, no-look feed from good friend and teammate Martin St. Louis, who was the hero of Game 6. Richards’ goal snuffed out a ton of momentum that the Penguins had wrangled following Jussi Jokinen’s game-tying rebound goal less than four minutes prior. Richards, one of the team’s most vocal and experienced leaders, entered Tuesday’s action with an untarnished 6-0 record in Game 7’s during his career.

First-goal foreshadow: Before the game, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault was asked about the significance of a strong start and the game’s first goal. Considering the team that scored first won each of the first six games of the series, Vigneault answered: “It seems to be an important trend in this series.” Well, the Rangers fourth-line got them on the board to deflate a Penguins crowd that was raucous to start. A beautiful little passing sequence resulted in Brian Boyle’s goal at 5:25 of the first. Granted, the Penguins gave up an odd-man rush, but that was the sort of shot that Marc-Andre Fleury really should have been able to stop. The Penguins picked up their pace, controlling play for much of the remainder of the first frame but Lundqvist yielded nothing, turning away all 10 shots faced in the period.

Changes coming? Considering the team's embarrassing collapse from a two-game series lead, it seems fairly certain that change may be coming for a Penguins team that has underachieved yet again. Both coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero are likely to endure quite a bit of scrutiny in the coming days as the future direction of the team, and its leadership, is assessed.

PITTSBURGH -- One of the undeniable storylines of Game 7 between the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night will be the potential fallout if the Penguins lose.

If the Penguins blow a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers, it will mark three straight Game 7 losses since their Stanley Cup win in 2009 and the second time under head coach Dan Bylsma's tenure that the team will have coughed up a 3-1 lead (the other time was in 2011 against Tampa in the first round).

But Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby insisted that isn’t the mindset in the Penguins’ room.

“I don’t think we exactly look at it the way you just said it. I think we look at it [as] basically we didn’t help ourselves the last two games we played. I don’t think we look at the whole picture like that. I think we look at it responding and looking at this as an opportunity. We worked hard all year to get home ice in the playoffs and to be home,” Crosby said in a late-afternoon media briefing after an optional team skate on Monday.

“So I think to get to this point we’ve got to look at this as an opportunity and make the most of it.”

[+] EnlargeSidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesSidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will depend on each other to get the Penguins past the Rangers in Game 7.
Crosby was one of two Penguins made available to the media on Monday. The other was often-times (of late) linemate Evgeni Malkin.

It’s rare to see the two of them in such a setting. So if you were looking for a signal as to the mindset of the Penguins, it is striking that the two Pittsburgh stars were much more loose than one might have anticipated given the fact the team is coming off two potential elimination games in which they’ve been outscored 8-2.

Malkin, notoriously media shy, was asked how he was doing as the media briefing began.

“Is [that] the question?” he said with a smile.

Several times questions were asked of both players and Crosby would grin and nod at Malkin as if to say, Go ahead, you handle this one.

And several times Malkin would grin back and shake his head.

"Me again," Crosby quipped as Malkin skirted answering a question about getting more traffic in front of New York Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

At one point a reporter’s cell phone went off.

"Nice song," Crosby noted.

The Penguins captain found a little humor in discussing whether he was turning to owner Mario Lemieux during what has at times been a difficult postseason as Crosby has scored just once in 12 games.

Lemieux was in the Penguins' locker room in New York after the Penguins' 3-1 loss in Game 6.

“If you’re talking specially last night ... we didn’t really talk about anything different than we would have, half the season we talk after the games when he’s down in the room,” Crosby said.

“I don’t think there was anything different there. But definitely he’s got a pretty good understanding of dealing with the pressure and things like that. I think if anyone understands, sometimes it’s nice just to not have to talk about it all, so I think he can appreciate that too.”

At one point, the two were asked about the nature of their relationship and the pressures they face at this time of year.

A silent moment.

“That’s a tough question for me,” Malkin said.

“I’ll take it. See this is, maybe a couple of years ago I would have made him answer it but I know now,” Crosby said with a grin.

Still Malkin did jump in and relate how Crosby was a help when Malkin came back from a disappointing turn at the Sochi Olympics in late February.

“Sid come to me and we start talk about my game, about life. We’re good friends and I’m excited to play with Sid,” Malkin said.

“I’m learning a lot. We know we can win tomorrow. And we do it.”

At the end of the question period, Malkin jumped up from his chair and strutted from the media room, the picture of satisfaction at a job well done.
PITTSBURGH -- The New York Rangers survived a second-period letdown and a major scare from the Pittsburgh Penguins after Derick Brassard's game winner in OT gave the Blueshirts a 3-2 win and 1-0 series lead.

The Penguins learned in Round 1 the danger of a two-goal lead, and the Rangers got their lesson in the second period when they surrendered a pair of goals to find themselves tied 2-2 heading into the third. The Penguins blew two separate two-goal leads against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals in Games 2 and 4 and erased two-goal deficits of their own in Games 1 and 3 during the wildly entertaining six-game set. After a poor first period, the Penguins returned after the intermission a different team, tilting the ice and outshooting the Rangers 15-4 during the middle frame. As focused as they appeared in the first period, the Rangers looked hapless in the second period as they allowed the Pens to dictate the tempo and get the crowd back into the game.

But the Rangers recovered in the third and carried strong play into the overtime period, where a wild sequence ended the game 3:06 into play when Brassard notched his first goal of the playoffa to help the Rangers jump out to an early series lead.

Controversial call: Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was absolutely livid after the Penguins’ tying goal at 13:28 of the second and argued heatedly with the nearest official after James Neal was credited with the equalizer. Lundqvist got a piece of Neal’s shot, but the puck fluttered up an over him with Evgeni Malkin wreaking havoc in front. Whether Lundqvist felt he was interfered with or that Malkin high-sticked the puck in was not immediately clear, but the original call on the ice was upheld. All in all, it was not a great night for the officiating crew (how many times have we said that this season?), as they made an incorrect hand pass call earlier in the game and missed a few blatant penalties as well.

Early lead: It did not take long for the Penguins fans at CONSOL Energy to get on the home team, after an unpleasant first period for Pittsburgh. The Penguins surrendered the game’s first goal on what was a rather benign shot from Benoit Pouliot just 5:04 into play. That didn’t seem to help Marc-Andre Fleury’s confidence, as the embattled Penguins netminder looked disjointed and rattled throughout the first frame. He’d give up another before period’s end, when veteran center Brad Richards was left all alone in front, though he didn’t get much help, either. For all the questions heading into Friday’s action about the Rangers' energy levels after coming off three games in four nights, they looked by far the more energetic, sharper squad.

Power outage: And as much as Alain Vigneault attempted before the game to claim it was a new series for the team’s maligned power play, the unit struggled again in Pittsburgh. The Rangers failed to cash in on four power-play opportunities Friday night, extending their slump to 0-for-25 with the man-advantage. They are an abysmal 3-for-33 during the postseason.

Depleted defense: The Penguins were again without defenseman Brooks Orpik, who was scratched with an undisclosed injury. Orpik, who had one goal and one assist in the first four games of the playoffs, has missed the past three games for the Penguins. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has declined to discuss Orpik’s or his timetable for return.

COLUMBUS -- Not sure that "puzzler" even begins to describe the current state of offensive affairs for the Pittsburgh Penguins and their roster of elite goal producers.

But the black and the white of it is this: through the last seven playoff games, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Kris Letang and captain Sidney Crosby have combined to score (wait for it) zero postseason goals.


The big egg.

Still, the Penguins are up 2-1 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Columbus Blue Jackets despite a lack of scoring from guys whose jobs are, at least in large part, to score goals -- which is a testament to the team's depth, something critics questioned heading into the postseason.

Indeed, trailing late in the second period of Game 3 in Columbus on Monday night, it was defensive defenseman Brooks Orpik going Denis Potvin and scoring a crucial goal with 1.8 seconds left to narrow the score to 2-1.

Then, trailing 3-1 in the third, the Penguins shockingly scored three goals on three straight shots as Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen paced the Pens to a come-from-behind victory.

But having success despite the big boys' drought doesn't mean that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is content to sit around and wait for the inevitable to happen. In fact, Bylsma figures that the way the goals were scored in Game 3 -- with lots of traffic around Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, and two of them ending up in the net courtesy of deflections -- is a lesson to the entire Penguins' lineup, big gun or not.

"I don't think you can wait around to quote yourself, for an opportunity or a goal to happen or lightning to strike," Bylsma said after the Penguins went through an optional skate Tuesday afternoon that saw very few regulars take part.

"The important part is exactly how they're going to come. And the goals we got last game were evidence of that.

"I don't think we can expect it to be an easy goal or a flash goal or a two-on-one and an odd-man opportunity. It's going to be dirty and ugly, and that's where we've got to go and that's where we got to get them from. That's regardless of whether it's Brandon Sutter scoring at the net or getting goals from Crosby at the net."

On the other side of the ice, or fence, Columbus coach Todd Richards understands that the math and history and just plain old logic suggests that keeping the big guns silent the longer this series goes appears to be a greater and greater challenge.

"You're right, those are great players you just named and they've obviously had great seasons and they're real important pieces on their respective team," Richards said. "It is tough to think that you're going to keep them [shut down]. I don't know if you can do that if this goes to a seven-game series. They're too good.

"One thing we have to be careful of is we've been putting these guys on the power play. We've been giving them lots of opportunities to be able to finish. The more we can make these guys play in their zone, obviously they’re 200 feet from our net and expending some energy in their own zone. So we need to continue to do that."

Indeed, the Penguins have managed to score just once in 14 power-play chances the last two games but believe the momentum they've generated on those opportunities has been crucial to leading to other scores.

"Those are dangerous guys, and we know that -- and at any moment, at any moment," Richards said. "You go back and you look at scoring chances, they're getting scoring chances, so [Sergei Bobrovsky is] making the saves or maybe we're in the right place to block a shot, so we need to continue to do those. This goes seven games, I think at some point you figure that they’re going to get one or two, but if we can keep it to a minimum, it will be in our favor."
Penguins 6, Jets 5
* Penguins: 12th straight home win; first team in NHL history to win at least 12 straight home games in back-to-back seasons.
* Dan Bylsma (PIT): ties Penguins record for career wins as a head coach (232, Eddie Johnston).
* Evgeni Malkin (PIT) two goals, one assist; second straight game with at least three points, had not played since a three-point game on Dec. 14.
* James Neal (PIT): two goals, one assist; has six goals and six assists in his last five games

FROM ELIAS: Evgeni Malkin, playing his first game after three weeks on the injured list, scored two goals and assisted on another in the Penguins' 6–5 win over the Jets. It was Malkin's eighth career game with three or more points against the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise, his highest such total versus any NHL team. The only other teams against which Malkin has recorded at least five games of three or more points are Toronto and Washington (six each).

Sharks 3, Blackhawks 2 (F/SO)
* Sharks: win snaps four-game losing streak vs Blackhawks; won each of last four shootouts overall
* Brent Burns (SJ): Goal (14); five goals in last seven games
* Blackhawks: lost each of last four shootouts
* Michal Rozsival (CHI): Goal (1); first goal since March 1, 2012.
From the official NHL release:



NEW YORK (Dec. 3, 2013) – Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the month of November.


Kane ranked second among skaters with nine goals, including four game-winners, and 19 points, helping the Blackhawks win 12 of 15 games to move into first place in the NHL standings (20-4-4, 44 points). He recorded at least one point in 13 of 15 contests, including six multi-point efforts, and posted a career-long, 12-game point streak from Nov. 3-27 (8-9—17).
Kane also scored the game-winning goal in consecutive games twice during the month: Nov. 6-9 versus the Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars, and Nov.
25-27 against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He capped the month with 1-1—2, his ninth multi-point performance of the season, in a 5-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes Nov. 30. The 25-year-old Buffalo native and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner ranks third in the NHL with 16 goals, including a League-leading five game-winners, and tied for fifth with 30 points in 28 games this season.


Malkin led all players with 21 assists and 25 points, including a League-leading nine power-play assists and 10 power-play points, as the Penguins went 9-5-1 to remain in the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (18-9-1, 37 points). He registered at least one assist/point in 14 of 15 games, including each of Pittsburgh’s last eight contests (4-13—17). Malkin also posted eight multi-point performances, capped by a season-high 1-3—4 effort in a 5-1 triumph over the Florida Panthers Nov. 30. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his 21 assists were the most by an NHL player in one calendar month since January 1996, when Wayne Gretzky recorded 21 helpers for the Los Angeles Kings. The 27-year-old Magnitogorsk, Russia, native leads the League with 28 assists and ranks second with 35 points, one behind teammate Sidney Crosby (13-23—36), in 28 games this season.


Harding posted an 8-2-2 record with a 1.88 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and one shutout in helping the Wild go 9-4-2 and move into the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference (16-8-5,
37 points). He recorded his second shutout of the season (19 saves) in a
4-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils Nov. 3 and allowed two or fewer goals in nine of 12 appearances. Harding also went 6-1-0 in seven games at Xcel Energy Center, where he has a 32-10-2 record in 44 career starts. The 29-year-old Regina, Sask., native has appeared in 22 games this season, leading the NHL with a 1.45 goals-against average and three shutouts (tied) while also placing in the top three in the League in save percentage (.939) and wins (14).
From the official NHL release:



NEW YORK (Dec. 2, 2013) – Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Dec. 1.


Malkin earned “First Star” honors for the second consecutive week after leading all skaters with nine points (3-6—9), helping the Penguins (18-9-1, 37 points) earn seven out of a possible eight points to remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division. He opened the week by recording an assist in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins Nov. 25. Malkin then posted his first multi-goal game of the season, registering 2-1—3 plus the shootout clincher in a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 27. He added another assist in a 3-0 triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning Nov. 29 before closing the week with a season-high three helpers and four points in a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers Nov. 30. The 27-year-old native of Magnitogorsk, Russia, has 4-13—17 during an eight-game assist/point streak dating to Nov. 18. He leads the NHL with 28 assists and ranks second with
35 points, one behind teammate Sidney Crosby (13-23—36), in 28 games this season.


Kronwall posted a trio of multi-point games in leading the Red Wings (14-7-7, 35 points) to three victories in three starts. He scored his third goal of the season, all on the power play, and added an assist in a 6-1 victory over the Boston Bruins Nov. 27. Kronwall then posted a pair of two-assist games: in a 5-0 win over the New York Islanders Nov. 29 and in a
4-2 triumph over the Ottawa Senators Dec. 1. The 32-year-old Stockholm native has 2-7—9 during a six-game point streak dating to Nov. 21, including assists in five consecutive contests. He is tied for fourth among NHL defensemen with 18 assists and 21 points in 26 games this season.


Keith tied for the League lead with six assists as the Blackhawks (20-4-4, 44 points) won all four of their games to move atop the NHL standings. He collected a pair of assists in a 5-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Nov. 25. Keith then posted one helper in both a 3-2 triumph over the Calgary Flames Nov. 27 and a 2-1 shootout win over the Dallas Stars Nov. 29. He capped the week by recording two assists, his fourth multi-point game of the season, in a 5-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes Nov. 30. The 30-year-old Winnipeg native has 0-9—9 during a seven-game assist/point streak dating to Nov. 19. He leads all NHL defensemen with 23 assists and ranks second among blueliners with 24 points in 28 games this season.
From the official NHL release:



NEW YORK (Nov. 25, 2013) – Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Pacioretty and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Devan Dubnyk have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending Nov. 24.


Malkin led all skaters with seven assists and eight points as the Penguins (15-9-0, 30 points) won three of four games to re-claim first place in the Metropolitan Division. He posted a pair of assists in each of his first two games of the week: a 3-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks Nov.
18 and a 4-0 triumph over the Washington Capitals Nov. 20. Malkin then snapped a 15-game goal drought, recording 1-1—2 in a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders Nov. 22. He closed the week by collecting two assists, his fourth consecutive multi-point game, in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Nov. 23. The 27-year-old native of Magnitogorsk, Russia, has recorded at least one point in 10 of his past 11 games (1-15—16) and is tied for first in the NHL with 22 assists while also placing seventh in the League with 26 points in 24 contests.


Pacioretty led all players with five goals, including two-game winners, in three games to help the Canadiens (13-9-2, 28 points) pick up a trio of victories. He opened the week by recording a natural hat trick, his second career three-goal game and first since Feb. 9, 2012, in a 6-2 triumph over the Minnesota Wild Nov. 19. After being held off the scoresheet in a 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals Nov. 22, Pacioretty twice found the back of the net, including the game-winning goal, in a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins Nov. 23. The New Canaan, Conn., native has totaled 7-2—9 in 15 games this season, tying for second on the Canadiens in goals and game-winners (2).


Dubnyk backstopped the Oilers (7-15-2, 16 points) to a pair of wins, posting a 2-0-0 record with a 0.50 goals-against average, .974 save percentage and one shutout in helping the team extend its season-long winning streak to three games. He made 14 saves for his first shutout of the season and the seventh of his career in a 7-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Nov. 19. Dubnyk then posted 24 stops in a 4-1 triumph over the Florida Panthers Nov. 21. The 27-year-old native of Regina, Sask., has appeared in 18 games this season, compiling a 6-10-1 record with a 3.17 goals-against average and .896 save percentage.
Even Jarome Iginla, widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in the business, didn't know how this was all going to work out given the muddy water that had flowed under this particular bridge.

After all, Iginla had at the last minute spurned an opportunity to join the Boston Bruins at the 2013 trade deadline, instead accepting a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There'd been some hurt feelings and lots of boos when Iginla and the Penguins came to town later in the season. And then there was the matter of the Eastern Conference finals, during which the Bruins shockingly smothered the game's most potent offense -- Iginla included -- limiting the Penguins to two goals during a four-game sweep.

So when Iginla entered free agency last summer and suggested to his long-time agent Don Meehan that he make a call to the Bruins to see if they might yet be interested in his services, the veteran winger wasn't sure what kind of reaction he'd get.

"I was totally prepared to get a 'No way' or 'Are you crazy?' or to be laughed out of the room or whatever," Iginla told this week.

Instead, what Iginla and his representatives got was a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.8 million, but with bonuses built in that could push him past $6 million this season.

[+] EnlargeJarome Iginla
Richard T Gagnon/Getty ImagesJarome Iginla and his new teammates have certainly taken a liking to each other.
You see, Boston GM Peter Chiarelli was never really mad at Iginla. He was more ticked off that the deal he thought he had with Calgary for the winger didn't pan out, and that the Iginla-is-a-Bruin-oops-he's-a-Penguin saga became a bit of a spectacle. But Chiarelli believed at the time Iginla was a world-class person and top-end player, and those beliefs didn't change regardless of how things played out last season. Still, Chiarelli acknowledged he was a bit surprised when he got the call from the Iginla camp last summer.

"It was refreshing," Chiarelli told

While it was a bit more complicated than expected getting Iginla into a Bruins jersey, no one can deny that there is a certain hand-in-glove dynamic in place.

The Bruins were looking for a rugged right winger to fill the gap created on their top line created when Nathan Horton decided to test the free-agent waters and signed with Columbus. And Iginla is almost the prototypical Claude Julien player, the Bruins' coach being a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy who likes players who go from A to B and don't mind running over whatever might be in between.

That center David Krejci is a consummate playmaker just added to what has proved to be a dynamic equation.

"I think it's a perfect fit," former NHLer and longtime national analyst Keith Jones said.

"He's a very smart player and he's very good with the give-and-go, which is sort of the game that Krejci and [Milan] Lucic like to play," Jones said of Iginla.

Certainly no disrespect meant to guys such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the fit with Iginla in Pittsburgh just wasn't there the way many thought it would be. Both of those centers love to shoot the puck as well as distribute it, Jones said.

Krejci is much more focused on getting the puck to his big wingers, and the production of Lucic and Iginla reflects that.

"Having a distributor like Krejci to play with is a huge benefit," Jones pointed out.

Iginla, in a phone interview from Pittsburgh, where the team is in preparation for Wednesday's clash with the Penguins, acknowledged that "it feels like I was just here."

For a guy who spent his entire career from 1996 through March 2013 in Calgary, the last few months have been something of a blur. When he ended up in Pittsburgh, his family (including children ages 9, 7 and 5) would come and visit. This summer, though, the family was able to move together to Boston and settle into a routine there with schools and the like.

He also got a chance to work out with many of his teammates before the start of the season, as opposed to parachuting into what was a red-hot Penguins team at the deadline. Even before he physically got to Boston, there were welcoming texts and conversations with many of the veteran Bruins helping ease the transition.

Needless to say, as Wednesday's game has approached, there have been a few jokes at Iginla's expense.

"It’s been fun. It's been a good transition," he said.

Iginla, Krejci and Lucic have created scoring chances right away, although it did take some time for Iginla to see those chances turn into actual points. After collecting just one assist in his first six games, Iginla has seven points in his last four games. The trio has combined for 31 points and rank 1-2-3 in scoring on the team, while Iginla leads the Bruins in shots and scoring chances.

"You knew it was going to come around," Chiarelli said. "He's got a real zest to shoot it, and that can be infectious."

In spite of the chances and the time in the offensive zone, Iginla acknowledged that he was a bit frustrated early on because he was hoping to make an early impression on his new teammates and prove he could keep things rolling with the top unit.

He is less worried now.

"Things are starting to feel pretty good," he said.

Wednesday's game will mark the first meeting of the two teams since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston. It is a series that will hang over the talented Penguins until the playoffs begin next spring. When we talked to Crosby and Malkin before the start of the season, both said their disappointment in that series was among the most painful of their careers.

Anticipation is strong that a rematch could be in the cards, with both teams off to a strong start to the season, the Penguins leading the Metropolitan Division with an 8-4-0 record and Boston sitting at 7-3-0 in the Atlantic Division.

Jones believes it's almost inevitable. The two teams are the class of the Eastern Conference, he said, and it would be no surprise at all to see them emerge from their respective divisions for another conference final showdown.

"I can't see it happening any other way," Jones said.

Wednesday night, then, will be a good early whetting of the playoff appetite.
NEWARK, N.J. -- It hurt so much that Sidney Crosby couldn’t bear to watch the Stanley Cup finals until the very last game.

The four-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins ranks right up there among the lowest points in Crosby’s career.

"It stung,” the Pittsburgh Penguins captain told Thursday in an interview during the NHL’s Player Tour event.

"It was one of those ones that definitely took a while to wear off. Looking back, probably right until Chicago won, it was pretty tough to go a day without it crossing your mind when you’re seeing the finals going on. I didn’t watch a game until Game 6. I tried not to think about it too much, but it did pass through my mind. I think until I started working out and started to get ready for this year, it was tough to turn the page there."

Former playoff MVP and scoring champion Evgeni Malkin echoed Crosby’s sentiment.

“I agree with Sid. It’s tougher loss for my career too. Four games and we score just two goals. I think we have best offensive line in NHL last year but we score just two goals. I don’t know if it’s bad luck or Boston played very well,” Malkin told

“But I just try to not remember that again, just look forward, look positive and look new season.”

And that’s the interesting question with these Penguins. Can you just turn the page or do you have to confront the reasons why that series with Boston went so awfully bad?

The answer is likely a bit of both. You need to have the ability to learn from the harsh reality of that defeat while also being able to put it behind you as an athlete.

"Ultimately in the playoffs, we didn’t get those big plays against Boston and they did a better job of that,” Crosby said. "I look at myself in the mirror for that, having those opportunities and having [Tuukka] Rask make those big saves, you want those chances back and you want to put them in. But you have to make sure you learn from it."

After a great deal of introspection, Penguins GM Ray Shero decided to not make any drastic changes to the team, keeping Dan Bylsma as head coach and resisting reactionary roster moves other than bringing back Rob Scuderi, who was a part of the Penguins team that won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

Shero’s decision to keep the band together resonated in the Penguins’ room.

"I think it’s good," Crosby said. "Everyone knows what is expected of them in that room. Knowing that our GM has the confidence in everyone there, we all have confidence in one another, but we have to learn from last year. Adding Rob Scuderi, a guy that was a big part of our team in 2009, that may not be looked on by some as a huge free-agent signing but that was a big move for us. He’s a heck of a defenseman and we’re happy to have him back."

Like Crosby, Malkin was pleased Shero didn’t take the ax to the roster.

“Oh, I love that. I like [that] Ray sign [Kris] Letang, Scuderi because we won together one Cup,” he said.

And Malkin predicted another one is on the way.

“We know [we] have great chance to win one again,” he said.

We’ll know next spring if keeping the band together was the correct call. It was for Chicago GM Stan Bowman a year ago when he resisted big changes following a disappointing first-round loss to Phoenix -- the team’s second straight first-round exit. Bowman believed in his core and ignored outside pressure to retool to a great degree. He was bang on as it turns out.

Now the Penguins hope their decision to be patient also pays dividends.

For Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero, it was never about whether he should trade Evgeni Malkin but about whether Malkin wanted to be in Pittsburgh.

Playing alongside a superstar like Sidney Crosby, and thus being in the considerable shadow cast by the talented captain, is not for everyone.

As it turns out, though, it is exactly what suited Malkin.

The two-time scoring champ and former playoff and regular-season MVP has agreed in principle to an eight-year contract extension that will come with an annual cap hit of $9.5 million. The contract kicks in at the start of the 2014-15 season.

"When we spoke, it was clear to me that he wanted to be here," Shero told on Thursday.

"He made it clear he wanted to stay and play in the National Hockey League," the GM added, noting the lure of Kontinental Hockey League money back home in Russia was also an option Malkin had to consider.

In the wake of the Penguins’ shocking sweep at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals -- during which they scored just two goals and went 0-for-15 on the power play -- there was much debate about what changes should be made to the team and the organization.

There was some discussion about whether Shero would be better off to move Malkin, who could have become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, to try to spread out the talent and money on the team as opposed to having two big-time, big-salary centers eating up so much cap space.

But Shero looked at it from a different viewpoint: When you have two of the best centers in the game, don't you do everything in your power to keep them?

The answer was yes, and so he did.

"It's a high number, obviously, with a salary cap," said Shero, who can add and subtract with the best of them. "I do the math. I get it."

But this contract doesn't kick in until the start of the 2014-15 season, and early indications are that the salary cap, which will drop to $64.3 million next season, will rise to pre-lockout levels and beyond by that time. If so, that $9.5 million cap hit may seem less imposing.

So this contract is really about the future and the fact that Crosby and Malkin are now under contract together for the better part of a decade. (The extension Crosby signed last year takes him to 2025 with an $8.7 million annual cap hit, while Malkin's goes until 2022.)

Shero, of course, has been busy since the Pens were eliminated late last week.

In the face of questions about whether he would make a coaching change, Shero extended coach Dan Bylsma and his staff, although longtime coach Gilles Meloche had decided months ago this would be his final season as the team's goaltending instructor.

Now Shero will turn his attention to the immediate future, specifically the makeup of his blue line.

Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang can all become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. The Pens have a handful of good young defensemen who need a shot at playing NHL hockey, so Shero must decide how to integrate those players into the lineup and at what point that integration should begin.

The biggest issue will be with Letang, who has high-end offensive skills but struggled mightily on defense in the playoffs.

In the coming days, Shero will sit down with Letang's agent Kent Hughes to see what the defenseman is looking for in terms of dollars and contract length. The feeling is that if Letang is looking to be paid as much as the league's best defensemen -- say in the $7 million-$8 million range with a seven- or eight-year deal -- it will be difficult for Shero to accommodate him given the other commitments he has made.

If that's the case, look for Shero to begin to immediately explore the trade market for Letang.

The situation is similar to a year ago when Shero began contract extension discussions with center Jordan Staal, whom he thought he could re-up long-term.

"But that turned very quickly," Shero said.

When it did, Shero worked out a blockbuster deal with Carolina at the draft that saw Brandon Sutter, a prospect and a first-round draft pick come to the Penguins in return for Staal.

One imagines a similar scenario unfolding with Letang is possible, if not likely.

“There’s a lot of work to do but a lot of options,” Shero said.

There's always a lot of hocus-pocus when a team is down 3-0 in a best-of-seven series, and while Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged "it's not a very encouraging picture," it was still interesting to hear Bylsma liken the situation to winning the gold medal at the Olympics.

Teams that win gold have to win four elimination games. They don't have to win them all at once and not all against the same team, but it's a process, one step leading to the next.

"In the Olympics to win a gold medal for Canada, they've got to win four games, four elimination games, Germany, Russia, Slovakia and U.S. Those are games that you have to win to go on, and that's what we're at right now," Bylsma said. "We don't have to win four games against the Boston Bruins, we have to win one game [Friday] night to move on to Game 5 to get this thing back to the 'Burgh, and that's what we have to look at, not the numbers, not the odds, not the four wins. We have to look at winning one hockey game, 60 minutes [Friday] night."

The Pens players with comeback experience include forward Pascal Dupuis, who was with the Minnesota Wild when the Wild twice erased 3-to-1 deficits in the 2003 playoffs, once against a Vancouver Canucks team for which current teammate Matt Cooke played.

"That's the closest thing. Once, against Matt in Vancouver," Dupuis said. "As far as numbers and odds and everything like that, every year is different. If you ask [the Bruins], they were up 3-0 a couple years ago, and they lost. So it's numbers, different players, everything is different about this one."

Cooke said he has seen a lot of different situations in his career and he prefers to think small picture.

"Personally, I think being in all different types of situations in the playoffs, and I've said this in the last two series, it always becomes about the next game and the next game is the most important, and you quickly have to move forward," Cooke said. "There's a lot of belief in our dressing room and the group that we have and what we've accomplished, and right now it's about Game 4 and that's it."


• Bylsma said there was no doubt in his mind there was a hook by Jaromir Jagr on Evgeni Malkin in the moments leading up to Patrice Bergeron's game winner late in the second overtime period in Game 3 Wednesday night. But ...

"I'm not sure at that point in the game I thought for one second, with how the game was being called, that I expected a call at all on the play," he said.

• Bylsma said there were no issues with defenseman Brooks Orpik in terms of playing in Game 4 Friday night after Orpik took a thunderous hit from Milan Lucic in the second overtime period. Orpik appeared dazed from the hit but did return to the ice a few moments later, and was on the ice when the winning goal was scored.

• There was an interesting give-and-take between veteran Pittsburgh beat writer Rob Rossi and Bylsma on Thursday afternoon. Rossi asked what the coach felt was at stake personally for him in Game 4 and moving forward in this series.

"I don't coach, have never coached, for my job," Bylsma responded. "When I took over as coach of this hockey team in '09, I came here to win hockey games, and that's where we're at right now. We know what's in front of us. We know exactly what's in front of us with the odds being down 0-3, but I believe in that group, I believe in that team, I believe in how we battled and how we're going to battle, and we're going to go in knowing we have an elimination game and win Game 4."

PITTSBURGH -- It was probably the moment when Evgeni Malkin and Patrice Bergeron, he of the one career NHL fight, decided to drop the gloves and start whaling on each other at center ice that illustrated how very quickly this Eastern Conference finals had gone off the charts emotionally. And while Malkin, a former Hart Trophy winner, scoring champ and playoff MVP, might have won a unanimous decision in his rare bout with the Boston center, it was the Bruins who scored the Game 1 knockout by blanking the Penguins by a 3-0 count.

The game, a curious affair filled with borderline and over-the-line plays, including a hitting-from-behind call against the polarizing Matt Cooke, put us immediately in mind of last year’s first-round series between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia: a wacky, out-of-kilter series that featured at one point simultaneous fights between Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang and Kimmo Timonen.

Given how the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series of April 2012 turned out, with the Flyers getting the Penguins completely off their game and walking away with a six-game victory -- including victories in the first two games in Pittsburgh -- you have to figure Saturday’s emotionally charged affair was exactly what the Bruins were looking for to begin the conference finals.

"I don’t think the situation at the end of the second period was in our favor," Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said of the Malkin fight and an extended jawing session between the two captains, Boston’s Zdeno Chara towering over his counterpart Sidney Crosby while exchanging pleasantries near where the fight was taking place.

Although the Penguins trailed just 1-0 at that point, Bylsma pointed to that moment as the one where Game 1 got away from the Penguins and conversely when the Bruins seized control.

The Penguins were on a power play at the end of the second period that would carry into the third, thanks to another potentially dangerous play by Brad Marchand, who was called for boarding after hitting James Neal from behind near the Pittsburgh bench.

But with the Penguins missing power play mainstay Malkin, off for fighting, as well as Chris Kunitz, who was sent off late in the second with Rich Peverley for another dustup, the Bruins continued their strong penalty kill, and shortly after the Penguins’ power play ended scored their second goal to suck the life out of the Penguins.

"It did get us off our game," Bylsma acknowledged.

Defenseman Brooks Orpik suggested the Bruins are the team better suited for those kinds of extracurricular activities and that it did seem to change the course of the game.

"After that, it seemed like they were a lot better," he said.

The Bruins, of course, saw that defining moment through a different prism.

"That sums up this time of year," Boston defenseman Andrew Ference said. "Two of the top guys on each team are raising the stakes and will do anything to either fire up the team, to swing momentum, to establish what this series is going to be all about. It’s impressive to see guys like that do that dirty work. It’s raw emotion and it’s good."

Ference returned to the lineup after missing seven games with an injury and added an assist on the Bruins’ first goal, a David Krejci blast that nicked off the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin and squeezed through netminder Tomas Vokoun’s pads.

Bruins coach Claude Julien gave the matter little thought, which is most often how these incidents are viewed from the winning side.

"I didn't see everything happen except that there was a fight. I saw Sidney [Crosby] push our goaltender as he's skating off," Julien said.

"This is playoff hockey. Those things are going to happen. You don't whine or complain about it, you just deal with it. What we had to deal with tonight was winning a hockey game. That's all that mattered."

Nine times in their first 11 postseason games, the Penguins scored four or more goals. They did so with a relentless forecheck and at times uncontainable skill. In the latter stages of the New York Islanders series and for long stretches against Ottawa in the second round, the Penguins dictated pace, imposing their will upon the game.

One wondered then how the Bruins would or could contain that kind of offensive might, how they might grab the tiller themselves.

As it turned out, they did it by winning the patience game and goading the Penguins into a kind of emotional space they are far better to avoid.

"It’s tough. They’re letting a lot go out there. The more and more it gets like that, the more it’s going to escalate," said Crosby, who was whistled for two minor penalties.

"Keep letting guys do that stuff, they’re just going to push the envelope," he added. "That’s something we obviously want to stay away from but it’s kind of a natural thing when it gets like that."

You never know at the start of a series how the two elements are going to mix.

These two teams have little in the way of relevant history and yet the heightened tension, the short tempers, the borderline and across-the-line hits and post-whistle scrums suggested teams that have had a long-simmering feud that quickly boiled over onto the brightly lit ice.

While there were obvious signs of rust -- to be anticipated when the league inexplicably delayed the start of the series until Saturday evening, giving the two teams a week off from playoff action -- there was no rust in the emotion department.

That the emotion turned ugly and thus prompted more bad blood was, if not inevitable, then at least not unexpected.

Cooke crunched Adam McQuaid from behind into the end boards and earned a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting from behind before the second period was two minutes old.

Although Julien said during an in-game interview he believed McQuaid might have put himself in a vulnerable position, it doesn’t absolve Cooke, of all people, from understanding what is a borderline hit.

That Marchand was whistled for a potentially dangerous hit from behind on Neal but received only a two-minute minor enraged the sold-out CONSOL Energy Center crowd, although the hit had much less velocity than the one administered by Cooke.

Although the penalties had little bearing on the outcome of the game -- the two teams combined to go 0-for-8 with the man advantage, including a three-minute power play the Bruins enjoyed after the Cooke major -- they were certainly part of the emotional tapestry of the evening.

"As far as the emotion, I don’t know, it definitely wasn’t what we had in the Ottawa series but after what happened at the end of the second there, maybe it’ll ramp up," Orpik suggested.

If that’s the case, hang onto your hats for Game 2 on Monday.