PITTSBURGH – One of the neatest parts of media day for the Stanley Cup Final this past weekend was watching Evgeni Malkin put on a show for more than 20 minutes.
One guy who really appreciated it was his sidekick, Sidney Crosby.
“That’s him,” the Pittsburgh Penguins captain said. “That’s the way he is, and you get to see that in this setting a little more than the typical after-game interviews. Him and Phil [Kessel] usually throw it on me, so it’s nice he’s in there today.
“Geno’s a laid-back guy, he’s pretty funny, he likes to have a good time, but when he gets on the ice, you can tell how fiery he is. He plays a pretty emotional, skilled game.”
Malkin had reporters howling as the often underappreciated Russian superstar, who early in his career rarely let reporters see this side of him because he didn’t yet have full command of the English language, made clear how motivated he was to vie for the third Stanley Cup in the Crosby/Malkin era.
And even though this past decade of the Penguins’ dominance is known as the Crosby/Malkin era and not the other way around, Malkin has no problem taking a bit of a back seat to Crosby.
“I feel like I’m the guy here, too,” Malkin said. “People love me. I come to restaurants, people want to shake hands. It’s fun for me. I signed big deal here because I feel we can win every year. I want to play with Sid for a long time.”
Malkin said he once heard Wayne Gretzky talk about his inner competition with Mark Messier in Edmonton, and it’s the same thing in Pittsburgh.
“It’s good competition for me,” Malkin said. “Sid score, I want to score, too. Sid score one more, I want to score one more, too. Sid score a hat trick, I stop.”
Malkin snickered at the deadpan. A gaggle of reporters laughed hysterically.
Malkin continued, saying he shows up to practice every day looking to see “who’s better today? Who’s better tomorrow?”
“I don’t want to be the No. 1 in Carolina or something,” Malkin continued. “I don’t want to say anything bad about Carolina,” but Malkin’s point was he doesn’t mind competing and playing with Crosby daily because his lone goal is to win and to, frankly, follow in Crosby’s footsteps.
“Sid’s such a professional guy, the most professional I’ve ever seen,” Malkin said. “I want to be the same.”
Malkin, 30, the second overall pick in the 2004 draft, and Crosby, 29, the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, are hoping to do something even Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr couldn’t do as Penguins — win a third Cup. Although, as Crosby is quick to point out, Lemieux does have two more as an owner.
But the two don’t take for granted how lucky they are to play together when so many teams around the league search thick and thin for merely one No. 1 center, let alone two.
In Pittsburgh’s Game 1 theft of the Stanley Cup Final from the Nashville Predators, Malkin scored once, Crosby had two assists for his 55th career playoff multipoint game. Malkin leads all postseason scorers with 25 points, Crosby ranks second with 22.
And they’re neck and neck in their career-long inner competition.
They’re tied for 40th all-time with 56 playoff goals each. Crosby ranks 22nd all-time with 103 assists, Malkin 23rd with 98 assists. Crosby ranks 24th all-time with 159 points, Malkin 27th with 154 points.
“We’re lucky to have two good centers,” Malkin said. “Not just two, we have four good centers. Why we won last year is we had four good lines. But one day the Pittsburgh Penguins draft me, one day they draft Sidney Crosby. It was a lucky two days.”
What’s amazing is despite a Calder, Hart and Conn Smythe Trophy and two Art Ross Trophies, Malkin was snubbed in January when he wasn’t included in the 100 Greatest Players of all time.
To Malkin’s credit, he says it didn’t bother him, saying he still comes to the rink every day, “smiling. I want to try new sticks, new skates, I’m still excited to play. If we win one more Cup, it’s amazing. If I win one more MVP, it’s amazing.”
That’s all Malkin cares about, he swears.
“I am sure all of these guys are human beings, and they all have pride,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “In some way I’m sure he would have liked to have been part of that esteemed group. But I know that the people around our organization believe that he is. We’ve made no bones about that. We value what he brings. We understand how good of a player he is. His body of work speaks for itself.
“But my sense of being around Geno is that his priorities are just trying to help this team win and trying to accomplish our team goals, which ultimately is a Stanley Cup.”
And that’s why Malkin says, “I’m lucky to play on this team, lucky to play with Sidney Crosby.”