What Doesn’t Kill Us

When Max Talbot raised his finger in defiance to the raucous Wachovia Center crowd and told them to Sshhh, admit it: you thought it was a dumb move.

 

And as Daniel Carcillo, the mulleted grinder who had just dropped the mitts with Talbot, whipped the home crowd into hysteria by telling them to get the (p)uck up on national television, you were ready to shut the television off and prepare for Game 7 in Pittsburgh.

 

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This was you.

 

As you sat in agony in your mancave or your local sports bar, the Philadelphia crowd trebling through the speakers, the NBC announcers guffawing over the fight, you were ready to give up hope.

 

Mere moments later, you were reminded why hockey is the most exciting sport in the world.

 

Ruslan Fedotenko dives over a pig pile to push in a loose puck. 3-1. A tinge of happiness overcomes your sullen disposition.

 

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This was you.

 

Mark Eaton, of all people, storms in from defense and knocks a rebound out of mid air like he’s Andy Van Slyke. 3-2. You’re trying to contain a feeling akin to the sensation of barreling past a speed trap and not seeing any flashing lights in your rearview mirror for two miles. Is this really happening?

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This was you.

 

Bill Guerin cruises into the Flyers’ zone like he’s on the Parkway East on a Sunday. Crosby, a hockey player with Mensa-caliber intelligence, is waiting on the doorstep. He puts it home. 3-3. The Wachovia Center turns into St. Paul’s Cathedral. You hug the pizza delivery guy.

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This was you.

 

Sergei Gonchar reminds Penguins fans why he is an elite defenseman. With a ludicrous amount of space, he winds up, and you see the back of the net move. Wild-eyed euphoria. 4-3 Penguins. You’re hugging the dog.  You’re walking like an Egyptian.

 

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This was you.

 

After the dust settled, and the sea of orange-clad Flyers’ fans drained slowly out of the Wachovia Center, and the Penguins glided victoriously through the handshake line, Penguins Nation needed a cigarette.

 

…Makes Us Stronger

This series wasn’t easy. Welcome to the NHL playoffs. More than once, you probably bodyslammed a sofa pillow in frustration. After the first period of Game 6, maybe you even said, “It’s over,” and started perusing Pittsburgh Pirates’ news.

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 Don’t subject yourself to this. Not yet.

 

 

The adversity and frustration and chipiness of Round One proved my point from a few weeks ago: the 2008-2009 Penguins might not be as talented as last year’s team, but they are tougher. They are meaner. And for almost every single game (except Game 5), they were parked in front of Marty Biron’s net, making his life miserable.

 

The clear standouts of Round One were third-liners Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke.

 

Or, as they are known in some parts, Sesame Street.

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The third line finished the series with six points are were a +4. In the crucial Game 4 victory, Jordan Staal and Matt Cooke killed a combined 11 minutes and 32 seconds worth of penalties. You can make a Rachel Ray dinner in the time the two were diving in front of slap shots, clearing out rebounds and killing off Philadelphia’s momentum-changing power play chances.

 

The Flyers’ vaunted power play was blanked, Tyler Kennedy scored the game winning goal, and the Pens won the game that turned the series. 

 

Going forward, the other three lines can learn something from the success of Sesame Street: it pays to grind out shifts along the boards.

 

In hockey circles, they call it “cycling” the puck. It’s boring, it’s extremely hard work, and fans generally hate it. Essentially, it’s a strategy of glorified keep-away. In a cycle, players concentrate on getting the puck into the opponents’ zone, and keeping it there by passing it back and forth deep in the corners.

 

Zzzzzz, I know.

 

But the cycle is highly effective at wearing down an opponent. For instance, take Jeff Cater, Philadelphia’s top goal scorer. He tallied 46 goals during the regular season, second only to Alexander Ovechkin. But matched up against the third line in Round One, he was invisible, managing only one goal and zero assists.

 

Sesame Street didn’t knock Carter out, they grinded him down by possessing the puck and making him work for every shot.

 

For the Penguins to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, they will need to contain similar threats in Eric Staal, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, and possibly Alexander Ovechkin.

 

my-pictures462  Unless Mr. Ovechkin gets creamed by the Rangers tonight.

 

If the Penguins’ forwards take a lesson from Sesame Street and learn to be more patient in the offensive zone, they can neutralize any offense in the Eastern conference on their way to another Stanley Cup Finals birth.

 

Don’t believe me? Well, don’t take it from me – take it from Mad Max:

 

captured-videos3 Ssshhhh.

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One response to “What Doesn’t Kill Us

  1. I read a lot and this post deserves to be seen by more people. This piece is my favorite breakdown of the first round series. Great job. I’ll be back.

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