Sidney Crosby needed a witness for his defense.

Evgeni Malkin testified Wednesday by comparing Crosby to fellow Russian center Pavel Datsyuk, a three-time winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward.

“It's tough to say who (is) better,” Malkin said. “Datsyuk has a quicker stick, longer reach. He can take pucks from between your legs, if you have it close. Sid is so strong. He wins battles in corners. He plays physical. He takes puck from you like that, then goes to try (and) score.

“Both guys are great at defense.”

Datsyuk, of Detroit, is a finalist to win the Selke Trophy this season. He is joined by centers Jonathan Toews (Chicago) and Patrice Bergeron (Boston).

Finalists were announced Wednesday. The winner will be unveiled during the Stanley Cup final.

The Selke Trophy was one of the NHL Awards voted on by a record 178 members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, including six voters from the Pittsburgh chapter. Crosby is a finalist for the Hart (MVP) and Masterton (perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication) trophies, and the Lindsay Award (outstanding player).

Crosby never would publicly lobby for a Selke nomination, but Penguins right winger James Neal conceded his captain's defense is mostly underappreciated around the NHL.

“It's hard to explain,” Neal said. “You have to watch him play a lot.”

Even then, knowing what to look for is critical.

That was the case on perhaps Crosby's signature playoff goal, scored last Thursday at Consol Energy Center in Game 5 of the first-round series against the New York Islanders. The highlight was Crosby splitting two Islanders players — a la Mario Lemieux — before scoring on goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

“Rewind by 10 seconds, and you'll see that in the corner he breaks up a play, and then, he is the first guy up the ice,” Neal said.

Coach Dan Bylsma often has referred to Crosby as a “200-foot player” because he is tenacious in the offensive and defensive zones.