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January 17, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
They donít ask you how you win them, just how many.
Game One of the Wales Conference Finals wasnít pretty. The Penguins played a brutal game overall yet still managed to escape with the 3-2 win thanks to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Eric Staalís inability to hit a yawning cage didnít hurt, either.
Staal couldnít convert a tap-in at the left post with 30 seconds left in regulation, letting the Penguins off the hook. Jussi Jokinen fired the puck from the right wing boards through the top of the crease to Staalís tape, but Jordanís big brother, a lefty shot, redirected the biscuit parallel to the goal line and into Fleury, who was hopelessly beaten on the play. Aw, thatís a shame.
It was only fitting, though, because Staal interfered with Fleury to get Carolinaís second goal. He knocked the stick right out of the Flowerís hand. He got away with another penalty when he swept the stick to the side, preventing Fleury from picking it up. Joe Corvo took advantage of the monkeyshine, launching a slapper from center point that hit something and popped over Fleuryís glove for a power-play marker at 18:34 of the third.
So donít cry about Staal missing that open net. He had it coming. See that, kids. Cheaters never win. Except in business, banking, politics, and most relationships. Let that be a lesson to you.
This was a weird game. Not a lot of emotion. I suppose itís understandable considering the Canes are fresh off two consecutive seven-game series, and the Penguins have waged two long, intense battles with their most-hated rivals, but it was still discouraging to see, particularly from a Pittsburgh perspective.
Both clubs favor aggressive forechecks and like to pressure the puck. The only difference is the Penguins are a step quicker and have these guys named Crosby and Malkin. If both clubs play their style and bring their best efforts, the Pens win.
And whenever the Penguins fired up the forecheck, they dominated Game One. But it was almost too easy. They were generating so many scoring chances, they started over-passing and got away from the simple north-south game. There was a whole lot of standing around out there. Not good.
It really goes back to the whole intensity thing. After getting through the Flyers and Caps, thereís no hatred left for the Canes. Even when the Pens got sloppy, there was never any real fear. We just got done watching Ovechkin and company for seven games. Not weíre supposed to worry about the Candy Canes and their popgun offense?
Carolina was all over Pittsburgh in the second period. While the Pens floated around making half-hearted efforts and lazy decisions, the Canes took command behind their own forecheck, cycling the lackadaisical Penguin blueliners into one turnover after another. And the gap got huge. Easy speed through center. It stayed that way until the intermission. Yet at no point did I ever feel the Penguins were in danger of losing the game.
Terrible performance from the Pens. But they got the win. And at least Dan Bylsma will have plenty to coach up over the next two days. The teams donít get back at it until Thursday. That extra day should help the Pens get their minds right.
Expect Game Two to be nasty. If the teams didnít hate each other, they certainly will now that the Pens rubbed out Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole. Both Cane wingers went down to knee injuries. Mark Eaton collided with Ruutu in front of the Penguins cage, and Matt Cooke tried to belt Cole with a hip check and caught him in the knee. No penalty on either play. Cookeís was questionable to say the least. Now weíll see if thereís a double-standard in the NHL disciplinary system. If Ovechkin doesnít get suspended, I canít see Cooke sitting down.
Cole and Ruutu are Carolinaís best hitters. If theyíre out, that would be a huge loss. And I mean huge. Like, Tiny Elvis huge.
Cam Ward: Ward lived up to the hype. He turned in a number of spectacular saves, none better than his larceny on Bill Guerin in the second. It was 2-0 Penguins when Kid Crosby wheeled behind the Carolina net and slipped a real wizard backhand feed to Old Man River coming down the slot. Guerin snapped it upstairs, but Ward snatched it like Daniel-san plucking flies with chopsticks.
Sure, Ward would like to have Philippe Boucherís goal back, but he gave his team a chance to win. Without Ward, this gameís over early.
Yeah, I know a lot is made of the Staal boys, but Chadís brother Jeff just got named Employee of the Month at Best Buy. Now whatís up?
Miroslav Satan: Who knew he had it in him? When Satan went down to Wilkes-Barre, I never thought heíd play another game in a Penguins sweater. Now heís scoring goals in the Conference Finals. Unbelievable. And his goal was swank. Tough to beat a breakaway out of the box. Miro opened the blade, froze Ward, and then deposited it on the backhand. Nothing to it but to do it.
One complaint, though. Geno stole the puck from Sergei Samsonov and outraced him for a breakaway with about 12 minutes to go in the third. The Pens were up 2-1 at the time. The game was on the table, and Malkin couldnít finish.
Malkin rarely converts breakaways in big moments. Back in the day, when Lemieux got a chance, it was automatic for the people. Book it. Game over. Canít say the same about Malkin. But I guess thatís why Lemieux is Lemieux and everyone else is playing for second.
He forced another horrible pass into the middle of the ice for an easy turnover. Thatís inexcusable. Sid canít get caught up trying to make plays that arenít there. Who does he think he is? Ovechkin?
And I also would have liked to see Sid attack the net more. He was a bit passive. No shots in the first two periods. He did crank it up early in the third, but it didn't last. He had a three-on-two and instead of cutting off left wing into the middle for the shot, he pulled up and tried to feather a pass through to Chris Kunitz driving the net. Bad decision. Wasted opportunity.
Having just dodged a bullet on Staalís botched chance at the post, Fleury watched Joe Corvo fire a wrist shot from the Carolina stripe. The innocent dump bent sinister when the puck bounced in the slot and skipped from right to left, forcing Fleury to stretch out with the blocker to knock it aside. Exhibit A why you should always throw pucks on net.
It would be ridiculous to try and describe all Fleuryís great saves, so hereís a medley of highlights. Youíre welcome.
Glove on Ruutu
Chest save on Corvo
Blocker save on LaRose
Pad save on Jokinen