Sidney Crosby is just a little bit nuts.
How else could you describe this play, from early in the first period of this game? Sid skates through the neutral zone, gains the blue line, and find himself at the center of four Canadiens. So what does he do? He pushes the puck between the two Habs in front of him, jumps over their sticks, and fires a wrist shot at David Aebischer as he's landing. And scores.
It took most of the period for everybody to pick up their jaws. Except for the refs, who were calling this game far tighter than the last two Pens games.
I figure that Aebischer, by the end of the first, had lived down giving up that goal to Sid. Then he skated too far out of his net to make a clearing pass. The Pens were forechecking aggressively, and Erik Christensen was able to get to the puck along the left wing boards. He fired a wrist shot while Aebischer was still in the face-off circle, and the puck squeaked through the five-hole and drifted into the net. 2-0 Pens after one, and Aebischer spends the intermission looking for a hole to crawl into.
The second period belonged to Montreal's fearsome power play. First, Chris Higgins beat Marc-Andre Fleury to the post with a wrap-around. Then Sheldon Souray fired a howitzer from center point. The second ended 2-2.
The Penguins almost put this game away in the first five minutes of the third. First, Evgeni Malkin, cycling behind the net, found Christensen driving the net for a chip-in goal. Less than a minute later, Gary Roberts cleaned up the garbage from a Colby Armstrong wrap-around attempt. 4-2 Pens.
But the Pens couldn't stay out of the penalty box, which is very dangerous against the Habs. Mark Recchi got careless with his stick, and caught somebody in the face. On the ensuing power play, Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov connected for a picture-perfect back door goal. This is why two-goal leads suck.
After that, the refs put the whistles away, and the game opened up. On a three-on-two break, Michel Ouellet drove to the net, and Malkin's saucer pass was perfect. 5-3 Pens.
Crosby added his first career empty-net goal to cue Elvis' limo driver, and the Penguins pull ahead of Ottawa in their neck-and-neck race for the 4th seed in the playoffs.
Final Score: Penguins 6, Canadiens 3, Montreal's power play: 3 for 6. Don't take penalties against these guys. Just don't.
- Erik Christensen (2G)
- Evgeni Malkin (2A)
- Michel Ouellet (1G, 1A)
The overriding theme of the past few games has been "living and dying by overtime". The Penguins haven't been able to keep leads lately, and have been hanging on by their fingernails night after night.
Pens vs. Devils: 8 Mar 2007
Patrick Elias must have been scouting Marc-Andre Fleury in shoot-outs. Everybody else has been skating straight in and hoping that the deke or the quick release will beat him. Very few have succeeded. Elias had the last shot in the third round of a scoreless shoot-out. He swung wide right from the start, stayed out until he reached the face-off dot to Fleury's left, then skated laterally across the slot, waiting for Fleury to open his legs as he moved side-to-side. Elias beat Fleury five-hole to win the game.
Final Score: Devils 4, Penguins 3 (Devils win shoot-out 1-0)
- Sergei Brylin (1G from flat on his stomach)
- Evgeni Malkin (1G, 1A)
- Patrick Elias (1A, GW SOG)
Pens vs. Rangers: 10 Mar 2007
Another one of those early-afternoon matinée games, so the first was mostly– Oh, my God! Oh, my God! THAT'S LARAQUE'S MUSIC! The fight everybody has been looking forward to since the trading deadline finally came to pass: Georges Laraque vs. Colton Orr. Orr got a couple of rights in early, and both players were down and back up multiple times. Laraque ended things with an overhand left and a roar from the Mellon Arena faithful.
The Rangers jumped out to an early lead by wrapping two goals around the first intermission. Early in the third, Evgeni Malkin scored on a power play to wake the Pens up. Three minutes later, Sidney Crosby scored a huge power play goal. A Malkin shot hopped up in the air, and Crosby caught it at the post to the right of Henrik Lundqvist, set it down on his stick, and poked it into the net over Lundqvist's outstretched leg. Not only did it tie the game at 2-2, it was Crosby's 100th point of the season, making him the youngest player in NHL history with two 100-point seasons.
Then, for everything Crosby and Malkin did to tie the game, they weren't even on the bench for the end of it. They had both gone to the runway for equipment work during the break before overtime, and didn't make it back before play resumed. The game ended with everybody from both sides over-shifting. Maximum Talbot made a tremendous effort to hold the puck in the Rangers' zone, and found Colby Armstrong open at the right half-boards. Colby took the pass and flung a wrist shot at the net. The puck hit Marek Malik's stick and deflected over Lundqvist's shoulder and into the net. Crosby and Malkin had to join the celebration from the hallway.
Final Score: Penguins 3, Rangers 2 (OT)
- Evgeni Malkin (1G, 1A)
- Sidney Crosby (1G)
- Sergei Gonchar (2A)
Pens vs. Sabres: 13 Mar 2007
Party at Mario's house!
Who invited all these people from Buffalo? And why do their jerseys have hairpieces on the front?
I'm not sure I like the fact that we had to celebrate the signing of Plan B against a team that travels well. There was entirely too much "Let's Go Buff-a-lo!" last night. Ya know what? We were too damn happy to care!
The referees were intent on keeping their whistles in their pockets, which led to three periods of wild up-and-down action and a month's worth of highlight-reel saves. For all that, what little scoring there was in the first two periods came in bursts.
- Late in the first, Jason Pominville mucks a rebound behind Fleury. 1-0 Sabres.
- Less than a minute later, Ryan Malone tips a Gonchar slapper in the net. 1-1.
- Late in the second, Maximum Talbot gets the Cheapest Goal In NHL History, by flinging a pass across the slot, only for the puck to hit Ryan Miller's leg and deflect into the net. 2-1 Pens.
- Chris Drury finds Dmitri Kalinin with a pretty one-timer pass. 2-2.
It looked like Pittsburgh was going to finally bury a game early in the third. Crosby poked home a Mark Recchi rebound for a power play goal a little over one minute in to make it 3-2. Gonchar made it 4-2 with a booming slapshot with about ten minutes to go.
Have I mentioned that the Sabres have the best record in the Eastern Conference?
Just two minutes after Gonchar's goal, Daniel Briere and Jochen Hecht got a 2-on-1 break. Hecht made a beautiful saucer pass to Briere, who buried it. 4-3.
With Miller pulled, Recchi almost had an empty-net goal, but his shot was Wide Right. (Wide Right is a registered trademark of Long Suffering Buffalo Fans, Inc.) With the Pens' defense hanging on for dear life, Drury fought for a rebound and scored with seven seconds remaining to tie it at 4-4.
Overtime was a lot of up-and-down, with nothing to show for it. Shoot-out time. Again.
- The Specialist Erik Christensen dekes Miller to the ice, then uses the Forsberg Reach-Around to score. 1-0 Pens.
- Daniel Briere doesn't take Patrick Elias' advice, and tries the deke-o-rama. It dribbles wide. 1-0 Pens.
- Jarkko Ruutu finally gets his chance, and can't beat Miller with the forehand-backhand move. Ruutu can't beat Miller with the rebound either. Um, Jarkko? You're not allowed to try the rebound. But that's not Ruutu's job. His job is to get in people's kitchen. A linesman kept Ruutu from learning just how in Miller's kitchen he was.
- Drew Stafford didn't take Elias' advice, either, but damn, was that a wicked release! 1-1, and we need a brief time-out while somebody finds a fire extinguisher for Fleury.
- Sidney Crosby rubs his hands like a mad scientist. "Perfect. Ruutu has Miller so aggravated, he'll never expect the Forsberg Reach-Around twice in the same shoot-out!" Just to rub it in, Crosby went to the opposite side that Christensen did. 2-1 Pens.
- Thomas Vanek might have considered Elias' advice, but after watching Stafford, figured he'd try that instead. Fleury teaches Vanek the error of his ways.
Final Score: Penguins 5, Sabres 4 (Pens win shoot-out 2-1), number of Zamboni breakdowns: 2. One died in the first intermission and wasn't ready for the second. Of course, the other one died in the second, so we had an extra-long break because they barely got the ice done after getting one Zamboni back on its wheels.
- Sidney Crosby (1G, 2A, GW SOG)
- Ryan Whitney (3A)
- Daniel Briere (1G, 2A)
US$100,000 per year. There's a lesson in that.
That's the difference between the Oilers standing pat at the trade deadline and Ryan Smyth making a tearful farewell in the hallway of Edmonton's airport.
Two parties letting obstinacy and pride prevent them from making one last small concession. Smyth could have shrugged and said, "Close enough." But he didn't. Oilers GM Kevin Lowe could have conceded and said, "The difference isn't even 1/4 of the league minimum salary. Don't spend it all in one place, Smytty." But he didn't.
Calgarians must be bitter about this.
I say there's a lesson here because we've heard almost nothing about Plan B for a few weeks now. Yesterday, the Penguins declined an opportunity to exercise a one-year extension on their lease at Mellon Arena. They'd lose much of their negotiating leverage if they did, so that makes sense from a business perspective. For most of February, however, the word from County Executive Dan Onorato, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and/or Governor of Philadelphia Ed Rendell (but almost never from Penguins management) has been, "blah blah agree on principles, blah blah little details, blah blah closer every day."
The stakes are obviously much higher in Pittsburgh. For Smyth, it's just the difference between a third jersey designed by Todd McFarlane, and a third jersey designed by an eighth grader during study hall. Here, were talking about 41 tax-revenue-generating home games a year; national and international events that wouldn't dare tolerate the Igloo's poor acoustics, outdated infrastructure, and inhospitable corridors; and the stigma of being a City That Lost A Major Sports Franchise. (Hello, Cleveland!)
I've said all along that the arena issue has become a referendum on the City of Pittsburgh's desire to rise again. I'd hate to see that all come apart because of something small that only the stubborn would trip over.