CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa — Evgeni Malkin was not a happy camper when discussing the cross-check by Robert Bortuzzo which injured Malkin and kept him out of the Penguins since March 16.
“I think it was dirty. A little bit dirty,” Malkin said of Bortuzzo. “We understand teams play hard against us. Sometimes they play dirty but I’m just focused on my game.”
The words may read a little harsher than they were said, but Malkin knew his words were direct. Bortuzzo is a former Penguins defenseman who began his NHL career in 2011 and was dealt to St. Louis for Ian Cole in 2015. Malkin is familiar with the heavy Bortuzzo.
“No, I’m not surprised. He always plays like this. He played so many games here. I know he can fight and he can block shots. He’s not like a goal scoring defenseman. He’s a tough defenseman,” Malkin said. “I was surprised (by the hit). I didn’t see him and he came to my side. It should have been a penalty for sure.”
The play in question was a second-period Penguins power play. As Malkin drifted past the St. Louis net, Bortuzzo stepped forward and cross-checked Malkin in the ribs. Malkin laid on the ice for several moments before going to the bench and locker room. While it has not been officially confirmed, it is widely believed Malkin suffered bruised ribs.
Saturday, Malkin rejoined the Penguins team at practice but in a red non-contact jersey. Malkin appeared to avoid taking hard shots but was skating and moving the puck at full speed. He would like to return for a couple of games before the playoffs but knows his health may or may not allow it.
“The hit was a long time ago. I’ve forgotten it but I hope to see him in the Final,” Malkin concluded.
The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Bortuzzo is generally not regarded as a dirty player. He was suspended for elbowing last September but has only 43 penalty minutes this season.
Bortuzzo was not penalized for the hit and avoided any further supplemental discipline as well. On the ice, it appeared as a hard cross-check away from the play, but did occur in front of the defensive net which is often viewed as a battle area.