Three Stars: Malkin comes alive in Penguins’ Game 4 win
The Pittsburgh Penguins held off the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, with Evgeni Malkin notching his first two points of the series, including the game-winning goal. With the 3-1 win, the Penguins are on the brink of raising the Cup, and can do in Pittsburgh on Thursday for Game 5.
Here’s who stood out to us on Monday:
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins
Might want to ask Mike Sullivan for this week's Powerball numbers. The Pens coach said on Monday morning that Malkin was doing all the right things, and that if kept them up, he'd eventually break out of his scoring slump. As predicted, Malkin delivered his best performance of the Final, scoring a goal—his first of the series and just his second in 16 games—and an assist to prime Pittsburgh's attack.
"He's such an instinctive player," Sullivan said after the win. "When he doesn't force things, he sees the plays that he needs to make. I think he's very similar to Kris Letang in that regard. They're well-intentioned because they want to help the team win [but sometimes] they do too much. When they play within themselves, and take what the game gives them, they make simple plays."
Those simple plays paid off for the Pens in Game 4.
Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Here's your nightly reminder that Kessel was somehow deemed unworthy of a spot on Team USA for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey. Hard to imagine what American GM Dean Lombardi was thinking as he watched the flashy winger earn the primary assist on each of Pittsburgh's first two goals, including Malkin's power play game-winner in the second.
Kessel finished the night with team highs in both shots (four) and shot attempts (nine) and earned a solid 62% Corsi rating at even strength.
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins
Murray is now 5-0 following a loss in the postseason after making 23 saves for the Pens in Game 4. And this was pretty much the quintessential performance from the rookie. Nothing splashy, but he was good when he had to be, shutting the Sharks down after allowing the Melker Karlsson goal in the third period that narrowed the lead to 2-1.
Murray will never be a highlight-reel hero. His technique is so solid, and he's so composed mentally, that most every save he makes looks routine. But it's that unvarnished dependability that's been key to Pittsburgh's run to the Final, and has the Penguins on the verge of that magical 16th win.
"My job's to stop the puck," he said. "Whether we're up, whether we're down, I try to keep the same mindset. I just try to stay in the moment and just worry about the next shot."