CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Evgeni Malkin was tentatively scheduled to speak with reporters after practice Tuesday, but he opted out. He was last seen walking through a corridor adjacent to the Penguins locker room at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex wearing only shorts and verbally fending off a team employee trying to convince him to speak.
Malkin, a candidate for the Hart Trophy this season, has been more accessible to reporters in recent years, and often has been a strong spokesman about the state of the team, so perhaps he should be excused for not talking about the Flyers before the teams’ first-round series opens Wednesday.
Maybe he’ll drop some interesting words after Game 1.
He might not have helped out the curious crew of reporters, but Malkin’s teammates sure appreciate what he’s done for them over the years.
We’ll cede the mic to a few of them:
Fellow superstar center Sidney Crosby: “I appreciate having him on our team and as a teammate, what he brings and what he’s done consistently. It’s not like he’s had one or two good years. He’s consistently one of the top guys in the league. You see the way he played in the second half this year, the way he picks up his game in the playoffs and takes it to another level. He’s a big-time leader for us. He’s been that way since Day One.”
Defenseman Justin Schultz: “Everyone knows how talented and skilled he is as a player, and about his personality. He’s fun guy. He has fun when he comes to the rink and he’s on the ice, and he’s a great teammate.”
New teammate Derick Brassard: “Just from playing against him in the past, he’s a hard-working guy. Him, Sid (Crosby), they work hard on their game every day and they compete and they try and make the difference. It’s good to be on their side.”
Brassard Seems Ready
For the second day in a row Tuesday, Brassard practiced with no apparent restrictions or difficulties.
“I felt good out there,” he said. “It felt good to get back. We’re running some high-pace practices, so it’s good for the tempo of the playoff games we’re going to get. We’ll see what’s going to happen (Wednesday).”
It seems likely he will be ready to play in Game 1 Wednesday.
“Derick had another real good practice. That’s really encouraging from our standpoint,” coach Mike Sullivan said.
Brassard missed the final five regular-season games because of a lower-body injury. He was acquired from Ottawa near the trade deadline not only to anchor the third line but also because he has a reputation for being a strong playoff performer.
In 78 career postseason games, he has 22 goals, 55 points.
“It just kind of happened,” he said of developing his playoff reputation. “My first year (with the Rangers) I think we lost in the first round (actually, the second round), but year two and year three we lost in final and the conference final.
“You’re just trying to remind yourself of the good things you’ve done before the playoffs start and try and prepare your head for everything.”
Crosby Still Thinks About Humboldt
A day after Crosby sent warm thoughts to those affected by the tragic Humboldt Broncos team bus accident in Saskatchewan, he went further.
He and team head equipment manager Dana Heinze worked to send the junior hockey team a Penguins jersey with a Broncos nameplate signed all the players.
Crosby also sent signed photos to each of the survivors of the crash, which happened Friday. Fifteen people have died, and many more were injured.
Crosby, his teammates and the Penguins Foundation put together a $20,000 donation for the GoFundMe campaign that was set up to aid those involved and their families.
Flyers Have ‘Quiet Belief’
The perception seems to be that the Penguins are a strong favorite over Philadelphia in their first-round series, even though the Flyers finished just two points behind the two-time defending champion Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol isn’t arguing; he’s just defending.
“You try and stay even keel and say all the right things, but guys have worked so hard to have the opportunity,” he said after Philly practiced Tuesday at PPG Paints Arena. “Our players have had a great mindset of earning their way and battling through some tough spots.
“We drew a tough task. We know that. Yet our guys won’t be afraid to go out and earn it and compete.
“We didn’t expect very many people to pick us to come out of this series, and that’s OK. There’s a quiet belief in our dressing room. … We’re the underdog. We’re pegged that. We know that. We’re playing against a hell of a hockey team that has a lot of experience at the playoff level. We’ve got to out and earn it, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Hakstol is aware of the way the Flyers got under the Penguins’ skins in a 2012 playoff meeting and used that to upset the Penguins. He doesn’t expect a repeat.
“I don’t think you’re going to rattle them too many ways,” he said.