PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin expects Phil Kessel to score in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, and anticipates his own “best game” too.
The Penguins will likely need Malkin and Kessel at their best to wrestle back control of a series that’s lately gone the Predators way.
Nashville captured Games 3 and 4 in front of a raucous home crowd and did so, in part, by continuing to stifle the two-headed offensive monster that lines up behind Sidney Crosby.
“It’s time,” Malkin said. ”It’s a good time to show your best game because there’s only three games left and (then) we have two, three months (of) summertime.”
Malkin, the leading scorer in the playoffs (26 points), went pointless with only two shots in the two defeats and has been suffocated — all series really — by the Preds’ menacing duo of P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm.
The big Russian boasts an ugly 39 per cent possession mark in the four games so far with five-on-five scoring chances favouring Nashville 24-8.
Kessel hasn’t scored since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final (six games), meanwhile, and has been held to just a single assist so far this series.
“I missed a couple shots that I probably don’t want to miss,” the fully-bearded Wisconsinite said after practice on Wednesday morning.
”You want to bury them but sometimes they don’t go in.”
Kessel has scored more goals on a per-game basis in the playoffs (0.43 for his career) than any current player not named Alex Ovechkin or Jarome Iginla (minimum 50 games).
He trails only Malkin and Crosby with 20 points this post-season and appears due to come through, posting maybe his finest game of the final in a Game 4 loss with eight attempts on goal.
To his point, three missed the net, another three were blocked and only two found their way to Pekka Rinne — both of which were stopped.
“He’s waited like a long time — he hasn’t scored in a long time,” Malkin said, noting the need for the Penguins leaders to rise up.
”But now it’s time. Last game I think he (played his) best game in this series, and I see he is like ice, (but) he plays so hard, and I believe, I feel it (Thursday), he’ll (play a) great game.”
Kessel had 10 goals and 22 points during last year’s Cup run while firing more than four shots per-game — mostly alongside Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin. With Malkin, he’s shot the puck a lot less (2.8 per-game) but still remained largely productive.
Asked how he’d managed to come through previously when under pressure Kessel responded in typical easy-going fashion: ”Just do whatever I do.”