Even in sparse ice time in return from injury, Evgeni Malkin makes impact on Penguins' win

May 21—Among the 1,107 NHL regular-season and playoff games Evgeni Malkin has appeared in over his career, in only five did Malkin amass less ice time than he did during Thursday's postseason contest on Long Island.

Malkin didn't need an abundance of time to make an impact.

In his return to action after missing the first two games of this first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders, Malkin had two points in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-4 win in Game 3.

"'Geno' made some plays (Thursday), and that's what he does for us," coach Mike Sullivan said in a video conference call with media after the game. "He has the ability to make plays that most guys can't. He factored in on two of the goals tonight; he was a big part of them. That's what Geno brings to this team. Opponents have to pay attention to him when he's on the ice because he has that ability."

Thursday, though, the Islanders had to pay attention to Malkin much less than they typically would have. That's because the 34-year-old had just 12 minutes, 10 seconds of ice time on 17 shifts.

According to game logs on hockey-reference.com, that's the least amount of ice time Malkin has ever skated during any of his 167 career postseason games. In only five of his 940 regular-season games has he played that little — and in each of those cases, Malkin left the game because of an injury that would force him out of multiple future games.

There was no indication Malkin suffered any injury — or even aggravation of his prior existing injury — Thursday. His relative lack of ice time more likely is attributable to a desire on the part of the coaching staff to more gradually ramp up his conditioning considering Malkin had appeared in only four games over the previous 65 days because of a suspected right knee ailment.

Also, Malkin played just 3:03 during Thursday's wild third period during which the Penguins spent all but 193 seconds protecting a lead. Sullivan seemingly was loathe to put a sore-kneed, soon-to-be 35-year-old out there in such a circumstance.

The only shift Malkin had over the game's final 7:48 was an 11-second skate beginning with 5:54 left and ending with Cal Clutterbuck's goal that tied the game for New York.

The sequence was the most notable evidence that Thursday's game wasn't the finest that a former NHL MVP in Malkin has ever played — indeed, his shot and possession metrics were among the worst on the team for the game.

But Malkin's primary assists on goals by Jason Zucker late in the second period and Jeff Carter while on the power play seven minutes into the third period ensured Malkin's proverbial fingerprints were all over this Penguins win.

"I thought he looked strong," Carter said. "He was moving well, making plays. My second goal, he made a great play to me. I was just trying to go the net; I didn't expect the pass. But good players like that make those plays.

"So it was fun to have him out there. I thought he brought a great boost to our lineup."

Malkin had his first two-point playoff game since Game 1 of the 2019 first round against the Islanders. In between, he'd totaled just two points in seven postseason games.

But even beyond the offense, Malkin stood out as a factor in his own zone during a first-period sequence in which he blocked two New York shots.

"Obviously, he's an elite player for us," Malkin's longtime teammate Kris Letang said. "I think he's going to get more and more comfortable as he plays more games. I think he played well (Thursday). He was able to create a lot of chances, and he was able to hold onto the puck, and on the power play, he's lethal for us. So it was good to have him back."

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter .