Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pens v Lightning (W 2-0)

Forty-six days ago. Twenty-one games missed. One quarter of the season - gone.

Bad, BAD times. (01-18-08)

When it happened, it was like time slowed down. Then, suddenly without any warning, the news broke today during lunch: Sidney Crosby to return to the lineup tonight. Life had finally meaning again...

It's been too long, old (young?) Friend. Too, too long.

Sidney looked amazing but tenative. He was winning faceoffs, skating like a freight train, making glorious passes, and setting up plays all over the place, but he just wasn't giving it 1000% the way he normally does. Noticeably absent too was the fiery attitude he usually busts out when he disagrees with a call. But have no fear - give him a game or two and it'll be back. ;)

He's BACK! He's back in the saddle again!

Just before the start of the game, FSN Pittsburgh showed a fantastic montage of Sidney highlights from this season set to Kanye West's Stronger. (PLEASE SOMEONE FIND THIS CLIP ON YOUTUBE FOR ME!!!)

LATE EDIT: Ask and you shall receive! BIG, BIG THANKS to Friend of The Show Liz F. for finding this video. It's not exactly the same one FSN showed last night - this one is longer and has highlights from all the players. :) Enjoy:

Sid made his first appearance less than a minute into the game to the surprisingly loud cheers of the Tampa Bay fans. (No sarcasm here at all:) That was classy. Thank you, Tampa Bay fans! :) Right out of the gate, Sid was making his presence felt. He and his linemate Mad Max Talbot had an early 2-on-1 chance. Sid took his first shot of the night. The puck went right under Mike Smith's pads. Unfortunately, Sid got just a little too much wood on it and sent the puck a hair wide of the goal. During Sid's second shift, Max tried to get him the puck as he was cheating up the ice, but Max was just a little too early with the pass, so Sid couldn't quite corral the puck.

Following some beautiful cycling by the top line (Petr Sykora, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Malone), Tampa Bay regained possession of the puck. Geno and Malone struggled to get control to set up a 2-on-1, but they were bothered by a Tampa defenseman. Sergei Gonchar sped in from out of nowhere and fired a quick shot that hit the crossbar. Later, Malone got a good chance in front of the net, but since he was trying to shoot through traffic, his shot was just wide. Jordan Staal and Jarrko Ruutu got a rush together, but Ruutu just couldn't get a stick on Staal's pass. A few minutes later, Sid's spot on the injured list was filled by Staal. (Here's hoping that his stay on the list is nowhere NEAR as long as Sid's was...) Staal tripped himself up and ended up on ice on all fours. Junior Lessard was speeding towards Staal at that very moment. Lessard hit Staal in the right side of Staal's torso with his knee. Staal was grimacing in pain. He went to the bench and would return to the ice briefly only to head to the locker room. He would not return because he sustained bruised ribs.

Ex-Pen Michel Ouellet later put a free hand around Max, but no call was made. Then Geno put on another show: He swooped around Dan Boyle, going from his forehand to his backhand and back again. He went to the backhand for the shot, but Smith shut the door on him. Brooks Orpik took the first penalty of the night for interference. On the Pens' penalty kill, Ryan Whitney blocked a shot by sprawling out on the ice. Geno went 1-on-1 against Vincent Lecavalier, and Smith had to dive and poke check Geno to keep the game scoreless. Marc-Andre Fleury made some beautiful saves, as well. The Lightning did not score on their power play. Orpik came out of the box while the Lightning had the puck in the Pens' zone. A few seconds later, Orpik fed puck to Sid, who was at center ice. Sid used his stick to get the puck, and as he gained speed, he kicked the puck out in front of himself. In the process, he split the Tampa Bay defensemen. He fired a shot on Smith, who made a stunning save.

With less than 2 minutes left in the first, Martin St. Louis fired a hard shot towards the wide open net (MAF was on the other side) but luckily, the puck rang off the goal post. Ouellet made a last minute attempt to put the Lightning on the board, but MAF did a great job denying him. The period ended scoreless.

1st period Sid summary: 7 shifts, 5:15 ice time, 1 shot

Sid was interviewed by FSN's Dan Potash during the intermission. He seemed upset with himself for missing that first shot. ("That was my miss.") We're shown this fact: When Sid was injured, he was tied for 1st in the points race. Now keep in mind he's missed on quarter of the season - he's currently number 22. WOW. That's something!

The second period started with, well I'll just quote Paul Steigerwald: "Malkin tries to take a piece of Paul Ranger." Heh heh heh. >:) A little later, Geno and Ranger were in a foot race for the puck. Smith came all the way out to the far wall to get to the puck first and negate any chance Geno might have. St. Louis then got a 2-on-0 rush with Mathieu Darche, but Daryl Sydor moved in nicely from behind and broke the play up. After that, Flower made a series of UNBELIEVABLE saves - most notably when he threw his glove hand up while he was down on his back with his head inside the net. He batted the puck out of the air to prevent the Lightning from scoring. UNREAL!

St. Louis later stole the puck from Sid. He and Lecavalier went on a 2-on-1, but Kris Letang sped in from behind to poke check the puck away and at the same time, draw a tripping penalty on Lecavalier. On the ensuing Pens' power play, Darche knocked Geno down. Malone wanted to have at him, but the fight never developed. The Pens didn't score on their advantage. As Lecavalier came out of the box, he got the puck from a long pass. Fortunately, Letang stayed back with him while Flower confidently made the save. Later, Sidney was hooked, but no call was made. Sid later got a little saucy and came in on Shane O'Brien and shoved him hard enough to knock him down. Ouellet pulled Orpik's skates out from underneath him, and seconds later Max and Jeff Halpern had words (which resulted in a scrum in front of Flower).

Then, from a long pass from Hal Gill, Syko went on a breakaway. With the memory of January 18th playing in our minds, Ranger took Syko down as he approached the net. Syko put his hands up to brace himself as he slammed into the boards. Oh. No. Not. Again. Syko shook it off so he could take the penalty shot he was awarded. He started down the ice, went wide, and faked a slapshot. Smith did not fall for it one bit and easily blocked Syko's shot. Then Lady Luck smiled on the Pens as the Lightning missed two - count 'em TWO - chances on a wide open cage. Mike Lundin upended Ruutu. He was called for hooking. On the ensuing Pens' power play, right off the faceoff, Ranger put his elbow into Sid's chest, knocking him down to the ice. (Okay, Coach. NO MORE MISTER NICE GUY. It's time to unleash the LARAQUE all over this guy.) Sid seemed a bit shaken for a while following that hit. The Pens didn't score on their advantage. The second period ended still scoreless.

2nd period Sid summary: 8 shifts, 8:26 ice time, 1 shot

The third period started out with an amazing shift by Malone, Tyler Kennedy, and Gill. But, as was the case up to this point, Smith was on top of everything. The refs missed a few calls tonight, but the worst one they missed was when Ruutu goaded O'Brien into a confrontation. O'Brien dropped his stick, threw off his gloves, and grabbed Ruutu (who did not drop his stick or his gloves) with both hands. He quickly realized that Ruutu had duped him and scrambled to return to playing the game. On any other day, that would have been an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Not today, though! Sid blasted another shot on goal that Smith blocked. Later Darche high sticked Pascal Dupuis. On the ensuing Pens' power play, the Lightning (namely Halpern) were bothering the Pens and getting waaaay too many shorthanded chances. The Pens definitely didn't score on this power play.

St. Louis headmanned the puck to Lecavalier, who went on a long breakaway. We all collectively held our breath as Flower didn't even blink and denied Lecavalier beautifully. Kennedy tried to come around from behind the net and sneak one past Smith, but the tactic did not work. AND THEN, WITH JUST 2:47 LEFT IN THE GAME: THE MOMENT WE ALL WERE WAITING FOR...

Max made a drop pass to Sid in the Pens' own zone. Max drove the net while Sid screamed down the far side. He dribbled the puck to make the Lightning defensemen think he was stopping. They fell for it, which opened up just enough space for Sid to center one through traffic. Max was there to put it into the back of the net. [Pens 1, Lightning 0 - Sid with an assist]

The men celebrate their late game winning goal (Sid's in the middle).

Smith went to the bench with 1:13 left to go. Just then, O'Brien tried to manhandle Gill a bit but decided not to take a penalty this late in the game with his team down by a single goal. Sid got the puck. He fired a long, hard shot from just outside his own zone but was just wide of the empty net. He left the ice. The Lightning were robbed of a goal when Malone eliminated Halpern from the play entirely by knocking him down to the ice as the puck literally trickled past a wide open net through the blue paint. (There was no call, tee hee!) Then Max lost his stick. He went down on all fours to prevent a Lightning player from taking a shot at the blue line. He then made one of the most brilliant plays I've seen all season. It wasn't fancy, but WOW was it smart: He used his hand to take the puck and scoot it just to the inside of the blue line. Geno was there to take the pass cleanly in the Pens' own zone. He was COMPLETELY unchallenged as he literally sauntered to the empty net. He swept the puck into the net in much the same way I sweep leaves off my porch. [Pens 2, Lightning 0] With a mere :04.9 seconds left in the game, the Lightning knew they'd lost. The clock ticked down and MAF earned the shutout in addition to the title "1st Star of the Night." WHAT A GAME!

Flower was making some big time saves!

The captain congratulates the goalie.

In an interview following the game, Sid remarked that he became tired as the game went on. He also said, "I'm a little rusty." At +2, 1A, and 3 shots - I can't wait until he gets broken back in! :) The Pens now have a serious one-two punch with the top line (Syko, Geno, Bugsy) and the second line (Max, the Saint, and Dupuis). It should be noted, though, that Dupuis hasn't had enough time to figure out what playing with Sid is like. There were a few times when he simply had no idea what was happening, but that will come with time. (Well, either that, or Marian Hossa will take Pascal's place before it matters too much.) Until then, Sid's got a solid partner in Mad Max. Look for those two to get in a friendly scoring race with Geno and Syko...


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