The Penguins learned a tough lesson Sunday. You can only dodge a bullet for so long. Especially when you keep supplying the other guys with ammunition.
On pure Flower power, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going back to Philadelphia.
The Pittsburgh Penguins live on for another day, and so does the controlling narrative of their series with the Philadelphia Flyers: nobody can stop the puck.
Let's just get the most obvious unbelievable statements out of the way first:
PITTSBURGH -- Like the little girl in the movie serials decades ago, apparently the Philadelphia Flyers don't really mind being tied to the railroad tracks, waiting until they hear the train whistle blow and ultimately making their escape.
PITTSBURGH -- This is a playoff story of the Two Bears.
In the misspent days of my television-watching youth in the 1950s -- this is so long ago that the remote control consisted of getting off the couch, crossing the room and turning the dial to one of the five other channels -- my favorite show was the after-school classic, The Mickey Mouse Club. (This Disney reference is only tangential to hockey, unlike Wayne Gretzky's 1984 off-the-cuff assessment of the Devils as a Mickey Mouse organization, and, of course, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, but please stick with me.) The show's best day was Wednesday, known as Anything Can Happen Day. It's a memory, like Proust's madeleine, that flooded over me like hot Zamboni water recently during a chat with Predators coach Barry Trotz.
NEW YORK -- This time was going to be different; it had to be. It would be impossible to hold even Sidney Crosby to the standards of last Nov. 21, when he scored two goals and four points against the Islanders in his first game back from a concussion suffered more than 10 months earlier. But if that November game was a reminder of Crosby's singular brilliance, then Thursday night at Madison Square Garden was a perfect demonstration of how Crosby, despite his status, still fits in a team.
This is the NHL's Little White Lie.
With the NHL Board of Governors in Pebble Beach, CA. on Dec. 5-6 to discuss the subject of realignment for the 2012-13 season, we asked SI.com hockey scribes Michael Farber, Sarah Kwak, Darren Eliot, Brian Cazeneuve and Adrian Dater -- to say what they would do if they ran the zoo. While addressing the question of where to place the Jets and a western team that must take Winnipeg's vacated spot in the Eastern Conference/Southeast Division, our writers were free to move teams at will, rename the divisions and conferences, and even reformat the schedule.
An otherwise lazy Sunday suddenly morphed into a manic Sid day.
PITTSBURGH -- The Penguins' practice on Tuesday ended with one of those shootout contests that HBO featured last year in its 24/7 series. Each skater takes shots on goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson, who take the opportunity to make flashy saves by, say, doing push-ups or bench-pressing their sticks as a shooter approaches. Last man standing this day would be the "Magazine Boy" responsible for picking up periodicals for the players' lounge.
PITTSBURGH -- It's impossible to explain how or why the world's best athletes always seem to rise to meet expectations -- as enormous as they may be. Maybe it's the expectations of a franchise that was scouring for pennies not so long ago, hoping for another savior. Or a city that was looking for its third Stanley Cup. Maybe it's the expectations of a hockey-mad nation, wishing only to capture Olympic gold on its home ice. But in his relatively short career, Sidney Crosby doesn't seem to let expectations go unrealized. Perhaps that is the defining quality, what separates the very best from everyone else.
In my colleague Stu Hackel's tremendous dissection of what we'll call "The Big Stall" last week in Tampa Bay -- when the Flyers held on to the puck to lure the Lightning out of their 1-3-1 trap -- he said it was "as bizarre as anything I've seen in 50 years of watching the NHL." And he wasn't talking about Mike Milbury walking off the Versus set in a corny, staged protest.
Yes, it is that time of year again. With a minimum of fuss -- something the five men on this list probably appreciate -- we present our annual Stealth List (past installments are linked at the bottom of this page), a brief compilation of people who generally fly below the figurative radar while making the NHL a better place.
MORE DIVISION PREVIEWS: Northeast | Southeast | Central | Northwest | Pacific
The magic numbers for first year coach Guy Boucher are 1-3-1. That's the stifling defensive posture he has his troops devoutly employ. It also describes this series for the Tampa Bay Lightning. [They] won [the series despite trailing] three [games to] one. Simple formula: 1-3-1. It all added up for the Bolts over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
There is just something deeply unsatisfying about watching a team without its superstar player, no matter how much it overachieves without him for a while. It's the Pet Sematary effect -- teams can still win games, but it's always an uglier product; and chances are things are going to end badly anyway.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Since the regular season ended, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher has preached that desperation is what wins playoff series.
PITTSBURGH -- After being stonewalled by Pittsburgh goalie Marc-André Fleury for 32 shots two nights earlier, it didn't take long for the Tampa Bay Lightning to finally find a way to break through. Two minutes into the game, Tampa Bay defenseman Eric Brewer, who had been frozen to stone as Arron Asham came driving in to score Pittsburgh's second goal on Wednesday, broke in on a 2-on-1 and whipped a shot high on Fleury. As the puck hit the twine, one could almost sense a collective sigh of relief from the Tampa Bay bench.
PITTSBURGH -- Eighteen seconds. While hardly enough time to walk to the kitchen to grab a drink, here at the Consol Energy Center Wednesday night, 18 seconds was exactly enough time to blow a game wide open. After 46 minutes of scoreless, stalemate hockey, where two goalies looked like they just might stop each and every puck, the Pittsburgh Penguins scored back-to-back goals, 18 seconds apart, to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 in Game 1 of their first-round series.
Regular season series: Tied 2-2
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Forward Alex Kovalev is returning to Pittsburgh after the Penguins acquired him in a trade with the Ottawa Senators for a conditional draft pick.
This is connect-the-dots time for the NHL, and the picture is not exactly pretty.
The people have spoken. Here is a sampling of deals, scenarios and questions I've received from readers after last week's column. Thanks for your passion.
PITTSBURGH -- Come hell or high water (or water from high), the game must go on. And so through a third-period downpour and choppy ice down on the rink on Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals played on in front of the 68,111 fans, who know that rain-soaked clothes will dry, but a unique experience won't be forgotten -- even if the star of the game might be.
PITTSBURGH -- On a day to celebrate new beginnings, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jordan Staal will suit up for the first time in seven months and rejoin a team on a grandiose stage. It almost seems fitting that the 22-year-old center, who learned the game on a makeshift rink in Thunder Bay, Ont., would make his season debut in open air.
PITTSBURGH -- As the sun set on 2010, so too did the hopes of a Winter Classic going off without a hitch. With rain showers expected throughout the day in Pittsburgh Saturday, the league announced it would push back the annual afternoon game to 8 p.m. at Heinz Field, making it the first primetime Winter Classic.
As teams get ready for camp and beyond, the pundit predictions will ramp up. Speculation will abound as to which assemblages have the best chances to ascend to playoff status in April. At this point, though, all I can commit to is the statement that any team that wins 45 games will get in because none have missed the postseason with that victory total since the lockout.
I got a letter once from a football fan in Baltimore who wanted me to know he hated -- HATED -- the fact that his city had stolen away the Cleveland Browns. He hated it because he remembered what it felt like to lose the Baltimore Colts. He hated it because he knew how much the Browns meant to Cleveland. He hated it because it was wrong, and he knew it was wrong, and if he could have somehow voted against it he would have voted against it.
Add my name to the growing list of those hailing the achievements of the Montreal Canadiens -- especially their tenacity that was needed to win two seventh games on the road. I will address that topic farther down, but some things need to be kept in perspective and the truth is that Pittsburgh Penguins did as much to lose their second-round series as the Canadiens did to win it.
Now we know what that great "White Out" at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh truly represents.
MONTREAL -- After scoring a delightful third-period do-it-yourself goal, one cobbled from equal parts skill and determination, Maxim Lapierre grabbed his head almost in disbelief.
The Canucks find themselves in an unwelcome situation against the Blackhawks, down 3-1 heading into Sunday's Game 5 tilt in Chicago. After welcoming this matchup as a way to atone for last season's ouster at the hands of these very same Blackhawks, the Canucks have lost their way. The Blackhawks have reeled off three consecutive wins after the Canucks opened the series with a convincing 5-2 triumph.
Momentum from game to game in the playoffs is a bit of a myth. Each outing has it's own rhythm and pace and flow. And outcome. One doesn't really impact the other. Certainly Sharks coach Todd McLellan hopes that's the case after his team flopped 7-1 in Game 4 in Detroit.
Rest assured that the San Jose Sharks won't shed that "choke" label with a win tonight vs. the Detroit Red Wings. Sure, it would be a four-game sweep of a team that's been to the Stanley Cup Final in each of the last two seasons, winning it in 2008, and a model of consistency for the better part of two decades.
The mathematical progression was obvious for the Montreal Canadiens, a team that defies logic but not arithmetic: six shots in the first period and three shots in the second period, which surely meant one and a half shots were coming in the third period.
MONTREAL -- Marc-André Fleury -- Rodney Dangerfield with an accent -- shut out the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in Game 3 while blocking out the criticism that had been heaped on him back in Pittsburgh.
It's not happening. The Montreal Canadiens, who got into these 2010 playoffs by the whites of their fingernails are not getting past the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. No way.
1. Sergei Gonchar: He is the best quarterback in Pittsburgh -- even if the NFL didn't suspend Ben Rothlesberger. Four-for-four on the power play and yes, the Penguins have plenty of options, but Gonchar makes the man-advantage sequences click with his decision making from the point.
PITTSBURGH -- In the annual playoff rite of attrition, the Penguins won the battle, 6-3, but they tied the war. For Pittsburgh, the casualty was center Jordan Staal, who was spotted leaving Mellon Arena before the conclusion of Game 1 on crutches with an apparent injury to his right knee. For Montreal, the casualty was defenseman Andrei Markov, who left the ice in the first period after seemingly hurting his left ankle or leg -- "Lower body injury, he will reevaluated tomorrow," said that font of information, coach Jacques Martin -- after a hit by Matt Cooke. So whose loss will be more significant? Let's look at the impact of the two stars. The initial impulse is to suggest that any hope of a second major playoff upset by Montreal went au revoir with Markov's injury. Not that the Canadiens figured to jump the tanned, ready and rested Penguins even with 25 sterling minutes from one of their alternate captains. After all, the Canadiens are not stats in a fantasy hockey pool but human
Season series: Pittsburgh won, 3-1
OTTAWA -- This was Game 6 one year later - without a fight.
Matt Carkner, Ottawa Senators: Everyone knows what to expect out of Carkner. He's the ultimate foot soldier, good for a couple hits, a couple blocks and a solid physical presence in his own zone. But, after scoring just twice in 82 games this season, even his own mom wouldn't have picked him to deliver a season-saving goal in triple overtime. Carkner's point blast at 47:06 of OT appeared to bounce off a Penguins' defender before slipping past Marc-Andre Fleury, sealing a 4-3 win for the Sens and scripting a happy ending to the longest game in franchise history.
OTTAWA -- Playoff platitudes like Dan Bylsma's "getting to our game" surely make for good group rallying cries and T-shirt slogans. The reality is that, at some stage of a playoff series, comparing the point production, effort and level of engagement of the two teams' best players is valid and revealing.
OTTAWA -- I'm here covering the Penguins-Senators series on Versus, but my proximity confirms my view from a distance: the Penguins appear as if they have established the level at which they will operate for here on out and it is up to the Senators to match. The difficulty is that the Senators are hard pressed to play at such a high level for long enough stretches, especially without Milan Michalek, Alex Kovalev and Filip Kuba. That means they are trying to upend the defending Stanley Cup champs while missing a major slice of veteran know-how and skill.
There was good news to be had for the Ottawa Senators in the wake of Sunday's 4-2 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins. First, Sidney Crosby probably can't play any better against them than he already has.
PITTSBURGH -- Some things went right for the Penguins in the opener of their seven-game series on Wednesday night. The defending Stanley Cup champions held Ottawa snipers Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson without a goal. The Penguins got two man-advantage goals from Evgeni Malkin and a highlight-film worthy assist from Sidney Crosby on another score. And yet, despite having two more power plays than Ottawa had and despite going against a goalie who was only so-so for most of the night, the Penguins fell 5-4 on home ice. Clearly, the champs have things to correct for Game 2.
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Kostya Kennedy | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Kostya Kennedy | Brian Cazeneuve | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
MORE BRACKETS: Michael Farber | Darren Eliot | Brian Cazeneuve | Jim Kelley | Allan Muir | Sarah Kwak
Fair to say that there are weightier games on the schedule Wednesday night than the third of four regular season meetings between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Contests fraught with playoff implications like the Blues against the Red Wings or Rangers vs. Islanders. Real life and death stuff.
You know it was a dull day in the trade market when the most interesting thing on TV was the commentators almost coming to blows defending their positions on players who, by and large, even hockey fans wouldn't recognize if they showed up on their doorsteps with their names on big cardboard signs. (See the reruns of the TSN marathon coverage on the NHL Network.)
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings He's a man for his era, a defenseman who is practically perfect in every way. With post-lockout rule changes making the off-the-glass, crease-clearing blueline behemoth practically obsolete, the ability to play positional hockey and move the puck became paramount. Lidstrom, a Swede, was the most accomplished at the refined art, winning six Norris Trophies in the decade and becoming the first European to captain a Stanley Cup champion.
Watching the Game of The Season on television Saturday night -- that playoff-quality Chicago overtime win over Pittsburgh -- On the Fly felt twinges of nostalgia for the good old days of, say, 2004.
With almost a quarter of the regular-season schedule in the books, I would go as far to say that the Buffalo Sabres' sizzling 12-4-1 start isn't really out of the ordinary. They were well on their way to being a playoff team last season prior to goaltender Ryan Miller getting hurt down the stretch. Miller (12-2-1, leading-leading 1.77 goals-against average, .939 save percentage, two shutouts) has been a difference-maker again thus far, with no signs of slowing down. Given his fine play -- he was the league's Third Star for last week -- and the slippage of the Boston Bruins to date, the Sabres sitting atop the Northeast Division is at least explainable, if not entirely predictable coming out of training camp.
If it seems like the average NHL player is getting younger, that may be because it's true. At 27.4, the league's average age last season was the lowest it's been since 2000-01, according to quanthockey.com, an independent website that offers statistical analysis by age and nationality. The average age of forwards, when weighted to account for their number of games played, dropped by more than a year after the 2004-05 lockout, a sign that younger players were being given more opportunities.
I sat in on a presentation this past weekend in Nashville by Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant General Manager Claude Loiselle that was very interesting. He was part of a program that addresses the entire Thunder Hockey AAA organization: coaches, parents and players aged 11-18 on teams comprised of some of the best youth in the southeast region.
The sign on Interstate 76 East on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on a dim Monday morning reads "You Are On The Road To The Stanley Cup." After two games of the 2009 final, evidence suggests the road is right but the direction is wrong.
PITTSBURGH -- In their pivotal game of their playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the battle of wounded knee.
The déjà vu Stanley Cup final is now a must-see.
The seventh game of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final has already been played in the recesses of minds and in recreation rooms and on driveways and rutted roads and in the temporary rinks that sprout in city parks during the northern winters.
The Penguins have completed the hotel hat trick in Detroit, staying in their third auberge in three trips during the final. For those keeping score at home, they started at the Westin for Games 1 and 2, moved out to the suburbs to a Ritz-Carlton for Game 5 and, after going 0-3, are now ensconced at the MGM Grand.
Turns out more than one player is willing to take a hometown discount to stay with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The NHL -- for reasons inexplicable to anyone who doesn't understand that it is always sniffing for potential expansion cities -- convened in Las Vegas to hand out its rotating collection of silver not named Stanley. All and all, a slick affair worthy of a watch.
Just call it the city of champions.
And so it goes, on and on and on.
DETROIT -- On the night of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the hands of Max Talbot are just fine. Nine days after his linemate Evgeni Malkin jokingly remarked about him, "Yeah, little bit bad hands," Talbot scored twice in the second period, as the Penguins won the deciding game, 2-1 (RECAP | BOX), at Joe Louis Arena Friday night. "[But] he's still right about that," Talbot said, chuckling.
The Pittsburgh Penguins proved their mettle in prevailing in Game 7 in Detroit over the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. They played better. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury came up with his best effort at Joe Louis Arena when it mattered most, saving the celebration with his left-shoulder lunge save on Nick Lidstrom with one second remaining. Role player Max Talbot stepped into the spotlight and took a star turn with two goals. And the team overcame a mid-game injury to Captain Sidney Crosby to carry on and finish its comeback from a 0-2 series deficit.
DETROIT -- Here are the Three Stars from the Penguins' 2-1 victory in Game 7 to win the Stanley Cup:
DETROIT -- On the night of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the hands of Max Talbot are alright. Nine days after his linemate Evgeni Malkin jokingly remarked, "Yeah, little bit bad hands," Talbot scored twice in the second period, as the Penguins won the deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals, 2-1, at Joe Louis Arena Friday night. Winning the championship for the first time since 1992 against the team that defeated them just a year ago, the Penguins defied history, becoming the first team to win Game 7 on the road since the 1971 Montreal Canadiens.
History is supposed to teach us lessons and give us insight into the future. When it comes to tonight's Game 7 in Detroit between the Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, what view is pertinent -- the overall history or recent recall?
Among the memories that Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has tucked away from his playing days in Anaheim is the anguish of losing a Game 7. It was six years ago -- on June 9, 2003 -- that he picked up a copy of USA Today only to see his likeness splashed on the front page of the sports section. He had become the illustrative example of the Ducks being denied by New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
PITTSBURGH -- On the 25th anniversary of the drafting of Mario Lemieux -- the nicest thing that has happened to this city since Mr. Rogers pulled on his first cardigan -- the Pittsburgh Penguins were silver if not exactly golden.
1. Jordan Staal, Penguins: Centering probably the best line of the night for Pittsburgh, Staal broke the scoreless game with a goal in the first minute of the second period. And when it became pretty clear that Pittsburgh was going to win on defense, he is one of the guys they call to shut the other team down. He played 19:31, more than he's played all series and more time than star Sidney Crosby saw on the ice. "Jordan Staal can, with his skating ability and his size, he can be a force in the defensive zone, he can be a force with his speed through the neutral zone. He can be a force in the offensive zone," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was a force in whatever zone he was in [tonight]."
A straw poll for the players of the NHL: How many of you would like spend the next few years tapping home laser beam passes from Sidney Crosby?
We can imagine how the late Bob Johnson might have consoled his troops after the Penguins were humiliated 5-0 by the Red Wings in Game 5. "You can lose three games and still win the series," he'd have reminded them.
In a welcome change of pace from the seemingly endless saga of Will He Or Won't He Play Tonight, Pavel Datsyuk is finally making news for something other than his bum foot. The Red Wings center, who hadn't played since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, had two assists in Detroit's commanding 5-0 win over the Penguins in Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena (RECAP | BOX) and are now within one win of hoisting the Stanley Cup for the 12th time.
Well, maybe Pavel Datsyuk is finally ready to make his debut in the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.
In last year's Stanley Cup Final between the Red Wings and Penguins, it was easy to see the series as a battle of the young and the ageless. Pittsburgh, led by its star 20-somethings, challenged an experienced Detroit team for the championship, but just couldn't get past the old standard.
Here are the Three Stars from the Penguins' 4-2 victory in Game 4:
The official word is that Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk will be a game-time decision tonight. Head coach Mike Babcock says it's up to the Hart Trophy finalist to decide if he's ready to roll in Game 4 at Mellon Arena, where the Pittsburgh Penguins will try to tie up the series.
At least no one can blame the springy boards tonight.
Too much déjà vu, it's getting creepy. Two years in a row, same teams in the Stanley Cup Final, same pattern. Detroit wins two at home, the series moves to Pittsburgh, and the Penguins take a nailbiter.
1. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins -- Now this was the big horse that everyone's been waiting to see in the Final. Playing to the full potential of his size and skill, Malkin backed off Detroit's defense and carved out huge hunks of space along the boards. That gave him the time to issue the primary assist on the first three Pittsburgh goals, including Sergei Gonchar's winner midway through the third. He now has 11 multi-point games this spring.
The deficit was the same as after last year's Stanley Cup Final opener, but the Pittsburgh Penguins skated off the ice with something they didn't have 12 months ago.
Overall, the Pittsburgh Penguins played a strong road game. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were in fine form. The rest of the team was stout defensively and looked sharp offensively. So, why then, are they down 1-0 in the series?
The Skinny: You know that old saying about defense winning championships? Forget it. This is the New NHL, and these days it's all about the O. Little wonder then that the league's two most lethal sides are back to test their marksmanship on one another for the second year in a row.
As the Red Wings and Penguins meet for an encore of last year's Stanley Cup finals, story lines abound. Here's a grab bag of things to watch as the series unfolds.
A stroll down memory lane . . .
These are surely metaphysical times in the wonderful world of sports, and the chattering of many frightened teeth concerns whether Sidney Crosby has consigned the Pittsburgh Penguins to certain defeat in the Stanley Cup Final. Crosby, you see, was brassy -- or dumb -- enough to actually touch the Prince of Wales Trophy after the Pens won the Eastern Conference title on Tuesday night.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said he wasn't worried about winning four straight against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He just needed his Hurricanes to win one game.
At this point, the outcome of the Pittsburgh-Carolina series is no longer in question. It's just a matter of when the Penguins can drop the polite "we're not looking ahead" mantra and officially start talking about the Detroit Red Wings.
Call it a moment of foreshadowing.
I'm not sure who controls the music in the Hurricanes' dressing room, but if they're looking to make a point before tonight's Eastern Conference final game, might I suggest a mash-up of Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out For A Hero and Olivia Newton-John's Let's Get Physical?
Playoff comebacks have been commonplace for Carolina, and for the Hurricanes to make the Eastern Conference finals a series again, they'll need their biggest one yet.
"It's called The Geno for a reason," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of the eponymous play on which center Evgeni Malkin finished his hat trick.
A surprising number of Buffalo folk and ex-Sabres are making good and bad in these playoffs.
Some thoughts and observations from the day off before Game 2 of the Hurricanes-Penguins series...