As much as any Penguin, these playoffs are about EVGENI MALKIN.

Even the most fanatic among Geno Nation would admit this was a mediocre year by his lofty standards. Nine goals and 24 assists in 31 games is a good Dan Quinn season, but a bad Geno season.

Tonight provides a clean slate, and a big stage. It’s a stage Malkin usually dominates: He has 81 points in 68 career Stanley Cup playoff games. The only Penguins to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP are Mario Lemieux (twice) and Malkin. That’s select company.

My prediction: Geno shines. But if he doesn’t, no excuse will be good enough. He’s playing with his preferred linemates. He appears healthy. Stand and deliver.

Another prediction: JAROME IGINLA and BRENDEN MORROW rip the playoffs to shreds. Two grizzled vets with no rings. Their desire OOZES. It’s TANGIBLE.

Iginla is just what the Penguins need on the power play: Somebody who doesn’t overpass. GRIP IT AND RIP IT. As for Morrow, I would rather be first out of the landing craft at Omaha Beach than play against Morrow in a seven-game series. Less risk involved.

As of 9:45 am, we still don’t know if SIDNEY CROSBY is playing. Sid knows. The Penguins know. We don’t. The Islanders are no doubt frantic with confusion over how to prepare. That’s the Penguins’ intent, anyway. If I’m Islanders Coach Jack Capuano, I plan for Sid, then ad-lib what to do if Jussi Jokinen takes his spot centering Iginla and Pascal Dupuis. No easy task: Jokinen has 11 points in 10 games as a Penguin.

UPDATE: Sid will NOT PLAY tonight. No setback, but no timetable for his return yet, either.