An MVP performance

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

NEW YORK -- With dozens of media members crammed into the stuffy confines of the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing room, Evgeni Malkin was tucked away in the sanctuary of the trainers' office, far away from the pesky TV cameras that make him so nervous.

The Penguins' morning skate has just ended when word came that Malkin, the second-year budding superstar of the Pens, had been named a finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP along with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, the favourite to win the award, and Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla.

Malkin was not being rude. Nor was he aloof. He's just a shy Russian kid of 21 who, according to those close to him, is self-conscious about his struggles with the English language.

Finally, after the majority of reporters had cleared out of Madison Square Garden, the lanky forward emerged and graciously accommodated two remaining scribes who wanted to know his feelings about the honour.

"I'm happy," he said. "It was a good season. But now it is (the) playoffs. I am not thinking of (the) MVP ... only playoffs.

"New York is a very good team."

Asked if he thought the game some seven hours later would be nasty, he nodded: "Yes."

Malkin was prophetic. It was nasty, all right.

Especially for the New York Rangers, who couldn't control Malkin from start to finish in Game 3 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final.

By notching a pair of power play goals and an assist, Malkin helped his outplayed Pittsburgh Penguins steal a 5-3 victory in front of a bitter capacity throng at the alleged World's Most Famous Arena, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead in games.

Only the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders have come back from such a deficit in NHL post-season history, although Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr defiantly pointed to baseball as an example that yes, they can still pull this off.

"They have to close it," said Jagr, who had a goal, an assist and peppered Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with 10 shots, more than twice as many as any other player. "Even a great team like the Yankees didn't hold a 3-0 lead (and) they are the best ever.

"We can make history."

Jagr never has been one to lack confidence. Or swagger. So why start now?

Jagr's baseball analogy revolves around the 2004 Boston Red Sox, who trailed the New York Yankees 3-0 in the American League Championship Series before winning the final four contests, the only such comeback in major league baseball.

The Rangers do have reason for hope. They dominated play, outshot the visitors 39-17 and were ahead in most every statistical category except for the most important one -- goals.

Special teams continue to be New York's Achilles heel. The Rangers power play went 0-for-5 on the night and is 1-for-14 in the series. The Penguins, meanwhile, scored twice with the man advantage in Game 3, both off the stick of Malkin.

Malkin's second goal was the back-breaker for the Rangers, who had just tied the game 3-3 on goals by Ryan Callahan and Jagr 64 seconds apart midway through the second period.

But any momentum was siphoned when Ryan Hollweg was called for boarding the Pens' Petr Sykora with less than five minutes left in the period. Malkin quickly took advantage, blasting the game-winner past Henrik Lundqvist.

"I don't think anyone feels worse than Ryan Hollweg," said Rangers coach Tom Renney, adding that the penalty "was probably the turning point in the game."

Renney said his Rangers "are going to keep coming at them" despite the odds.

"We certainly have found some things that work for us as we anticipated they would," he said.

By the third period last night, there were scraps going on throughout the stands. It remains to be seen if the Rangers have as much fight left in them as their fans.


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