- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

PITTSBURGH | Evgeni Malkin was disparaged for his play in the first two games, but the two-time Hart Trophy finalist was the best skater on the ice for Game 3 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Malkin had Pittsburgh’s second goal and led the team with nine shots in nearly 30 minutes of ice time in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the Washington Capitals.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, so it was only a matter of time,” Caps center David Steckel said Thursday. “You could say the same thing about [Alex Ovechkin] at the start of the last series.”

For the Caps to defend Malkin more effectively, they have to find ways not to let him spend so much time with the puck. Malkin is at his best when he’s gliding around and through defenders, using a scary combination of skill and size that few can match.

“He was skating everywhere yesterday. We have to close the gaps on him and be tighter on him,” Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said. “It looked like he was just skating anywhere he wanted. We can’t allow him that. We have to have more patience against him, and when he gets the puck, we have to angle him better.”

Malkin had two assists in the series’ first two games, but his play was inferior compared to that of teammate Sidney Crosby and his rival, Ovechkin.

That wasn’t the case in Game 3. He looked more like the player who led the NHL with 113 points this season and finished second to Ovechkin last year in scoring and the MVP voting.

“I thought we gave him too much space through the neutral zone,” Caps defenseman Brian Pothier said. “He’s excellent at getting the puck and sort of getting some speed and gaining momentum through the neutral zone. When he gets a couple of his little shimmy-shake moves going through the neutral zone, that’s when he is getting confident and feeling good.”

Death threat surfaces

Police and NHL security were alerted after a threat was made against Ovechkin on a message board during Game 2.

The threat was made on the message board of the Penguins’ official Web site. Pittsburgh television station WPXI reported that a representative for the police said a 17-year-old from Chambersburg, Pa., posted the threat.

A threat by a poster using the handle “pensforlife87” was placed on the team’s Web site at 9:28 p.m. Monday. The message read “Im killing Ovechkin i’ll go to jail I don’t care anymore” and has since been removed from the site.

“We became aware of an inappropriate comment on a message board and referred it to appropriate authorities,” the Caps said in a statement. “We appreciate their diligence and have every confidence in our club’s safety.”

Ovechkin was not available to speak with the media Thursday during the team’s afternoon availability, but a team spokesman said it was unrelated to the threat. There were reports that Ovechkin is receiving police escorts, but a team spokesman said that is inaccurate. Reporters from The Washington Times saw Ovechkin leaving the team hotel at 2:30 p.m. Thursday with teammate Alexander Semin and another friend without any security.

Injury updates

Sergei Fedorov and coach Bruce Boudreau said the 39-year-old center is fine after missing part of the second period with an apparent rib injury. Fedorov said the butt end of Pittsburgh defenseman Hal Gill’s stick caught him in the ribs.

Boudreau also dismissed the idea that Tom Poti’s availability could be in question.

“Tom Poti is fine,” he said. “We talked about it this morning, and he said it is a good hurt. It is feeling like you’ve accomplished something.”

Defenseman John Erskine and forward Eric Fehr are still day-to-day with injuries.

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