DETROIT - Mario Lemieux. Evgeni Malkin.
Three Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup championship teams. Two Penguins who won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
The current Penguins are popularly viewed as Sidney Crosby’s team, but the player they got as a runner-up prize in the 2004 draft when they didn’t get Alex Ovechkin turned out pretty good, too.
Malkin didn’t score a goal in the last three games of the finals, but he led all playoff scorers with 36 points — the most since the Kings’ Wayne Gretzky had 40 in 1993 — and his pass set up the first of Max Talbot’s two goals Friday night as the Penguins beat Detroit 2-1 in Game 7.
Malkin was in tears as he realized what he accomplished a year after doing little offensively with one goal and two assists as the Penguins lost to Detroit in six games. This time, he had two goals, six assists, a big smile and a trophy to lift.
“Any time you have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on a team, you have a chance,” Lemieux, now a co-owner, said after taking a brief victory lap with the Stanley Cup, just as he did as a player in 1991 and 1992 when he won the Conn Smythe both times.
The Penguins wouldn’t have gotten to Game 7 if it hadn’t been for Malkin, who looked tired, off his game and not quite certain he was ready to win the Cup against Detroit a year ago, but was dominant in all four rounds of these playoffs. In each series, Pittsburgh won the deciding game on the road.
“I saw Geno crying, he’s from Russia, and this is how important and huge it is for him,” Talbot said.
Only three years ago, Malkin sneaked away from his Russian team in Finland, made a clandestine flight to North America and stayed hidden in the United States for three days so he could join the Penguins, and they had to survive a court fight to keep him.
“Before this game, someone asked me and I said I could see an Arizona Diamondback (scenario), co-MVPs him (Malkin) and Crosby,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. “They’ve been unbelievable players, and you have to pick one I guess.”
Even if Malkin wouldn’t have been the one they would have picked if they had won that 2004 draft lottery — Washington did, and took Ovechkin. Pittsburgh went second, selected Malkin, and was rewarded with the player who led the NHL in playoff and regular season scoring.
In the playoffs, Malkin had two goals and six assists in six games against the Flyers, and two goals and eight assists in the grueling seven-game series against Washington in which the Penguins rallied from a 2-0 deficit, just as they did against Detroit. He had a monster conference finals against Carolina with six goals and three assists in four games.
“Do you need to talk about it? I think he pretty much sums it up every time he’s on the ice,” defenseman Hal Gill said. “He plays a level above everyone.”
Stanley Cup finals
Check out the best images from the Pittsburgh Penguins' seven-game victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
Stanley Cup finals on NBC
Pittsburgh Penguins defeat Detroit Red Wings 4-3