Call it a moment of foreshadowing.
As he opened the scoring early in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, Carolina center
It wasn't long before
The Hurricanes got off to the quick start they wanted with Cullen's goal but, as in Game 2, they had no answer for
That's three straight wins for Pittsburgh in the series. Given the way Malkin and Crosby are playing, it's hard to imagine they won't make it four.
Not that Carolina has no fight left. The Cardiac 'Canes haven't quite gone into cardiac arrest. But they're close.
There's effort, but no execution. Battles won in the offensive zone aren't translating into scoring opportunities. As
He's certainly not the only Carolina forward who's flatlining (the next
Neither does their defense. It's hard to believe this is the same group whose speed and agility was so effective against New Jersey and Boston. Against the Pens, they've turned into a sextet of bumbling Mr. Beans. When they weren't turning the puck over (the seven gives on the scoresheet hints at the forgiving nature of the local off-ice crew), they were letting their checks fly by unimpeded. Ugly? Oh, yeah.
With that kind of help it's hard to blame
And for that, give full marks to the Pens who, as
They got strong supporting efforts from
And then there was Malkin.
He may not be God, as Gleason pointed out after he burned the 'Canes for a hat trick in Game 2, but he's been Messier-like. And that's pretty close.
He's been the alpha dog in the offensive end, using his size and strength to grab the puck and get to the net. The second goal was a perfect example: he picked up a loose puck along the boards, danced by Gleason along the goal line and beat Ward with a wrister in tight.
"He's in a zone right now," Crosby said.
No kidding. That's now six consecutive multi-point games for Mama Malkin's boy, topping
And it's not like he punches out once the puck leaves Carolina's zone. Malkin's commitment on the defensive side has been just as critical to the team's success as his point streak. There were plenty of standout moments in Game 3-his devastating hit on Cullen, a couple of nifty takeaways from Staal-but he was just as effective taking care of the little things in his own zone. He was the gum that bogged down multiple Carolina sorties, his body or his stick closing down the passing lanes and taking away shots.
Like a young Messier back in 1984, Malkin is a hungrier, more focused player for having lost in the previous year's final. It is Carolina's misfortune that they ran into him.
So now come the reminders that just two teams-the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 Islanders-have ever come back after trailing 3-0 in a series. At the post-game press conference,
"Our challenge is that we have to find a way to beat 'em once," he said. "We're not looking at trying to beat Pittsburgh four times."
Just as well. The way Malkin is rolling, they haven't got a chance.