He got better as the series went on, but for five games one of the best players in the world was irrelevant. Through the first five games of the playoffs, he only had four points and they were all assists, but with an opportunity to clinch the series, Evgeni Malkin was the best player on the ice every shift.
The Pittsburgh Penguins almost blew it again in Game 6. They jumped out to a four-goal lead, but the Columbus Blue Jackets were able to score three quick goals in the third period and Nationwide Arena was electric; however, in the end, Malkin’s three goals proved to be too much as the Penguins held on to win 4-3.
This series had multiple moments where somebody had to step up and almost every time it ended up being someone wearing a blue sweater, but on Monday night it was the guy in black and gold wearing No. 71. The Penguins proved throughout the first two periods that they were the better team and it looked like they were finally going to hold on for a convincing victory, but they always seem to find a way to make it interesting.
The Penguins had 16 shots in the first period and the first two goals of the game came off of Malkin’s stick. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma experimented with their top line by having Malkin play alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, which paid off early and created the offensive surge that allowed the Penguins to gain a four-goal cushion.
Kunitz helped open the scoring with a ridiculous centering pass that went through multiple Blue Jackets players. He threaded the needle and put it right on Malkin’s tape in the slot, which he buried far side on Sergei Bobrovsky and for a moment silenced the raucous Columbus crowd. Malkin’s second goal rejuvenated a power play that needed a spark and his third goal came on a 2-on-1 where Malkin neglected the opportunity to pass and scored short-side to give him his third of the night and the Pens a four-goal lead.
The Blue Jackets scratched and clawed, but at the end of the night Malkin’s offense was just too much for them to overcome. If the Penguins want to advance to the next round, they’re going to have to find a way to keep the lead when up by multiple goals, but for now they’re on to the next stage where another fast and hungry foe will present themselves.
Shane Darrow is an NHL writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane Darrow