Evgeni Malkin has used the New York Rangers’ 20-year-old post-season mind game against them.
The Pittsburgh Penguins centre tore a page from the Mark Messier playbook, circa 1994, and guaranteed a victory for his team Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
“We know we can win [tonight],” Malkin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Monday. “And we’ll do it.”
Of course, the stakes are lower than they were with Messier’s favoured Rangers (we’re talking about Metropolitan Division bragging rights, not the Eastern Conference final), but the pressure on the Penguins is immeasurable. Labelled underachievers since winning the 2009 championship, the Penguins find themselves on the brink of blowing a 3-1 series lead. Their failure to reach the East final this year could result in an organizational shake-up.
Malkin is one of few Penguins high-profile stars who has done most of his speaking with his stick this post-season. The Russian leads all Penguins in points with 13 (good for fourth in the NHL) and is tied for the club lead in goals (six).
The last time the Penguins won a seventh game, it was at Joe Louis Arena in 2009, and the Stanley Cup was theirs. Malkin set up Max Talbot’s opening goal that night en route to a 2-1 Cup-clinching win.
The following season, Pittsburgh lost Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinal against the Montreal Canadiens 5-2 at home, and Malkin was kept off the score sheet.
Pittsburgh’s most recent Game 7 was a 2011 opening-round shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. And, yes, the Lightning completed a 3-1 series comeback over the Penguins by winning three straight that spring.
If Malkin is to make good on his word, his team must solve the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist. The goaltender, who has won four consecutive Game 7s, has a chance to become the only goalie in league history to win five straight do-or-die games, surpassing Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour and Cam Ward.