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East final – post-game (Game 2)

A few post-game observations following the Penguins’ 7-4 victory Thursday over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final, which the Penguins lead, 2-0:

STAR GAZING

1 – C Evgeni Malkin, Penguins. A hat trick and an assist for, yep, the NHL’s leading playoff scorer. (Take that, haters!)

2 – LW Chris Kunitz, Penguins. His first goal in 20 games was nice, but his two assists, four hits and plus-3 rating really show his inspired effort.

3 – LW Matt Cooke, Penguins. Three assists – including on Malkin’s third-period winner – hurt like a knee-to-groin collision.

GENO LIKE YINZ

A thought came my way – yes, it’s possible – after Malkin’s third goal in Game 2. In so many ways he is the hockey-playing version of Pittsburgh’s populace: He is a proud working-class immigrant, comfortable in the shadows but capable at carrying of the load when called upon. A stand-up soul, maybe misunderstood and always written off too soon.

“I think you’re right,” G Marc-Andre Fleury said. “He’s just laid back, a laid-back guy around the room.”

Like the grandfather steel-works of local fans that idolize him, Malkin posses a fierce determination to prove people wrong. He has scored six goals and recorded 14 points in seven games since national and local media criticized him for going five games without a goal.

I know what Malkin says about outside criticism – “I don’t listen” – and I also know that he’s telling only the half-truth. See, Malkin is only concerned with how what is said and written appears to his family, friends and teammates believe; I have evidence:

Between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup final last season, Malkin spoke to me one-on-one inside the Joe Louis Arena visiting dressing room. At that point, I was essentially the only English-speaking media member to whom he would grant these chat sessions. This was a conversation we’d had two other times during the playoffs, but this time he knew I planned to write what he’d been telling me – that he was tired, and uncomfortable at the left point on the power play. Fairly damning stuff for an MVP candidate on a goal slump, as he was at the time.

The next morning, I walked into the same room after the morning skate, and D Sergei Gonchar and RW Petr Sykora made no bones about their disappointment with my story. Sykora asked why I would write something Malkin didn’t say. When I showed him the quotes on a notebook, he apologized – but only after Gonchar had sternly offered his disapproval of the story, saying, “We don’t need that right now.”

Gonchar, interpreting for Malkin, later told a media scrum, of which I was part, that Malkin believed he was misinterpreted.

Clearly, I was not pleased. As Malkin walked to the team bus, I stopped him and asked why he would lie about being misinterpreted. He said he didn’t want to lie, but that he was worried this story would become a distraction to his teammates and coaches, so lie this day he did.

“I was wrong to say that,” Malkin said to me. “My play is not good, but saying that doesn’t help. Maybe guys are angry. I needed to fix.”

The conversation continued, and Malkin, with whom I’ve always had a very good professional relationship, wrapped it with two words that stuck with me: “I’m sorry.”

I recalled this story during the third period of Game 2 on Thursday. I just kept thinking how authentic Malkin was that day-after in Detroit. He was embarrassed to disappoint his teammates AND to do wrong by the reporter that had publicized the words that disappointed those teammates.

As I recalled that story during the third period of Game 2, I wondered how often my great-grandparents felt similarly – embarrassed to disappoint one group of people AND another person – after coming to Pittsburgh and dealing with a strange new world, a language barrier and a self-awareness that those of us from the United States, living in these united states, probably cannot understand.

Malkin is Russian, but he’s cut from Pittsburgher-cloth.

STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME

With their win Thursday, the Penguins are 10-0 over the past two playoff seasons in Games 1 and 2 played at Mellon Arena. They’ve taken a 3-1 lead in three of five such series, and swept the other.

QUOTE AND A QUESTION

“Personally, it’s all good to get it done, but we’ve been having a lot of guys score goals that maybe aren’t expected to and stepping up with it.”

–Penguins LW Chris Kunitz, after scoring his first playoff goal in Game 2

One of those guys is D Philippe Boucher, who has appeared in five straight games as the Penguins’ No. 7. Should he remain in the lineup even though injured D Sergei Gonchar (right knee) is back to averaging 20 minutes?

Yinz know the drill, dear readers. Send your thoughts via e-mail.

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

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