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March 20, 2019
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Hey, remember a few weeks back when I brought up the idea of trading Jordan Staal?
Staal was King f’n Kong last night in Detroit, bringing the Penguins back from a 5-2 third-period deficit to stun those filthy Red Wings 7-6 in overtime. Suck it, creeps.
Staal hung a natural hat trick in the final frame, potting the equalizer with just 23 seconds left in regulation, and then outworked the Wings to set up Ruslan Fedotenko for the winner at 3:49 of the extra session. There was much rejoicing.
This was the most unlikely comeback since John Travolta shot Marvin in the face. The game was over. The Pens were buried. Twice.
When Henrik Zetterberg made it 5-2 with a power-play goal at 5:03 of the third, driving the net and redirecting a sweet Jiri Hudler pass over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove, the outcome seemed a foregone conclusion. There’s no coming back from three goals down against the Wings in Detroit. It simply doesn’t happen.
But the Pens made it 5-3 on a two-man advantage, with Geno Malkin rifling a wrist shot past Chris Osgood’s blocker at 6:57. Staal got his first of the night 1:12 later, taking a nifty spinning pass from Matt Cooke and flipping home a backhander to make it 5-4.
Yet just when the Penguins seemed poised to do the impossible, Hudler drifted to the top of the right circle and drilled a slapper between Fleury’s blocker and body to make it 6-4 at 10:14. Terrible goal.
The Flower had a clean look and simply misplayed the shot, allowing the puck to tick the bottom of his blocker and trickle over the line. The biscuit’s slow progress towards the yawning cage made it eerily reminiscent of Fleury’s gaffe in Game Six of the Finals.
A normal team would have folded in light of such a back-breaking goal. But the Penguins pressed on, cutting it to 6-5 at 15:51. Kris Letang threw the puck to the net from the right point only to have it hit Cooke in front. Staal dug the rebound out of traffic in the high slot and snapped home his second of the night.
Staal completed the hat trick at 19:37. With Fleury off for the extra attacker, Kid Crosby earned a faceoff in the right circle with a whirling backhander. That’s when Mike Babcock made the curious decision to call a timeout. Michel Therrien had used his on the earlier five-on-three, so the Pens were grateful for the chance to regroup.
Therrien sent out Mike Zigomanis to take the draw alongside Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Letang, and Alex Goligoski. Zigomanis, the right-handed faceoff ace the Pens have never had, came through like a champ, beating Zetterberg clean.
Goligoski grabbed the puck and skated towards the center point, drawing Pavel Datsyuk out with him, before dumping a backhand pass to Malkin at the right point. Geno the Scoring Machine-o dropped the hammer, blasting a shot into the mass of humanity congregating at the Detroit net. The puck hit something on the way in and fell at the feet of Nicklas Lidstrom. Staal’s long reach spoiled Lidstrom’s weak clearing attempt and then corralled the bouncing biscuit before anyone else could find it. Bang. Tie game.
Staal wasn’t done. Not by a long shot. Before time expired, his hard work drew a hooking penalty to Brian Rafalski, ensuring the Pens would open the overtime four-on-three. Pittsburgh couldn’t convert, but the power play kept the momentum rolling.
Once the clubs were back at even-strength, Staal again displayed his dominance, starting with some exceptional work in the defensive zone before lugging the puck through center and firing a wrist shot from left wing off Osgood’s shoulder. Datsyuk collected the rebound along the right wing boards and started up ice, casually skating with one hand on his stick. Big mistake.
Staal never quit on the play and hounded Datsyuk from behind, picking the Russian’s pocket. In one artful motion, Staal lifted Datsyuk’s stick, swiped the puck, and circled back into the zone on a two-on-one with Fedotenko. Lidstrom was the lone defender. Staal moved the puck in a hurry, and Fedotenko dropped to one knee to wire a one-timer from the top of the right circle for the winner.
Jordan Staal: Staal was a beast. After going goalless in his first 11 games, he’s now found the net in three of his last four, and it all started with an empty-netter against the Blues. More importantly, he’s finally starting to show some emotion. He actually pumped his fist after that first goal of the season, which is akin to pulling a Sharpie out of his sock for Staal, who can be rather timid.
Now that the monkey’s off his back, Staal is all fast and loose like Eddie Felson. He was rather demonstrative following each of the Detroit goals, and his willingness to drive the net further exemplified his renewed confidence. Staal’s only limitations are self-imposed.
Sidney Crosby: Kid Crosby was flying, as per usual, and he even managed to find the net. He finished with a goal, two assists, and six shots. That’s 19 shots in his last four games. The goals are coming. But would it bust his ass to curve his stick?
Mike Zigomanis: He went 9-5 on faceoffs, and he won the big draws. Zigomanis beat Zetterberg to set up the game-tying goal, and he also pulled back a clean win in overtime. He'll be huge in the postseason. Tremendous addition by Ray Shero.
Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang: Sure, they made their share of mistakes, but that’s how you learn. At least that’s what I tell my parole officer.
Goligoski led all Penguins with 28:12 in ice time, and Letang was second among Pittsburgh defenders with 23:19. The dramatic increase in minutes was due to Rob Scuderi taking a Lidstrom shot off his left skate. Scuderi exited for good early in the second, forcing the Pens to go with five defensemen the rest of the way. The kids stepped up and saved the day.
Marian Hossa: As much as I hate to admit it, Hossa had a strong game, launching five shots and notching a pair of helpers. Under normal circumstance, I would be irate that the Penguins didn’t extract their pound of flesh from Hossa’s mangy hide. But had they knocked him from the game, he wouldn’t have been able to witness one of the worst collapses in Detroit hockey history. How’d that feel, jerk?
Not Pavel Datsyuk: Datsyuk was having an impressive game until he was on the ice for three of Pittsburgh’s last four goals. Staal humiliated him in the overtime. That’ll leave a mark. Hey, Pavel, go get your shine box.
Not Chris Osgood: Ossie displayed his Herman Munster-esque lateral movement on the game-winner. Wow, that was awful.
That was magnificent. Yeah, I was real bitter no one took a run at Hossa, and I would have been cursing up a storm had the Pens waddled away quietly with a 5-2 loss, but what can I say? Them boys are good.
Let’s not forget, though, that Pittsburgh’s defensive coverage was positively abysmal through the first 50 minutes. I mean, of the six goals Fleury allowed, only the Hudler one was his fault. Had the Pens lost, Therrien would have been turning the screws all week in practice. But all’s well that ends well.
This was definitely a statement. No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Pens will always know they can come back. No game is out of reach.
On the other hand, the filthy Wings will always know they suck.
We’ll talk a lot more about this game on tonight’s fake radio show.