Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pens v Thrashers (W 3-2 SO)

What a bittersweet victory. Colby Armstrong, who's now wearing #19, and Erik Christensen, who's now wearing #9 (which used to belong to Pascal Dupuis), returned to the Mellon Arena in Thrashers uniforms. (I promise: after today, I will quit lamenting the trade that took Army away.) It was indeed very clear there are "no friends on the ice." Read on to find out why.

The afternoon started with a Terrible Towel waiving tribute to legendary, iconic Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 79. FSN Pittsburgh showed the moment of silence but immediately cut to commercial before the national anthem. (Uncool, FSN!) The fans erupted in a mass waiving of their TTs at the end of the anthem. Marc-Andre Fleury got his first start since the December 6 game during which he was injured. He missed a total of 35 games. Then the game began with a bang! Ryan Malone seems to be making the front of the net his office these days. He was there 50 seconds after the opening faceoff when Sergei Gonchar blasted a shot on goal. Kari Lehtonen blocked the shot and believed he had it frozen, as did 90% of the players on the ice. Ah, but there was no whistle, and the only player who kept playing was Malone. He fished into Lehtonen's pads and took the puck. He set it up and flipped it into the net, stunning the entire Mellon Arena. [Pens 1, Thrashers 0] Bob Errey pointed out that this is exactly what coaches mean when they say "Play to the whistle!"

Malone (not in frame, obviously) scores on Lehtonen.

Syko and Bugsy celebrate the wacky first goal.

Fifty nine seconds after that, Mad Max Talbot added an insurance marker by putting a nice backhander up and over Lehtonen after speeding down the ice around the Thrashers defensemen. What a pretty goal! [Pens 2, Thrashers 0] He slid into the boards pretty hard after the shot but didn't get hurt. FYI, Max recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online what he wants to be called:
Most of the time, a certain 24-year-old French-Canadian Penguins forward is listed on rosters and lineup sheets and in print as Maxime Talbot.

He would be happy to shorten that to Max Talbot, a la Penguins defenseman Kris (instead of Kristopher) Letang.

Talbot, who loves the nickname Mad Max, gets a little irritated when his full first name gets misconstrued in translation.

"Sometimes I get phone calls from telemarketing," he said. "They ask for Mrs. Maxime Talbot."
We don't need to make any adjustments here - we've been calling him Mad Max for months now. :) Errey began discussing the Thrashers' recent string of losses with Paul Steigerwald. Errey implied that Ilya Kovalchuk didn't seem to be as concerned about the losses as he should be. He quickly backtracked a few minutes later, though. Malone drew a penalty on Alexei Zhitnik for interference. During the ensuing power play, Alex Goligoski high sticked Army. Neither team scored on their respective power plays. Jordan Staal nearly got a chance a little later, but he was hooked up by Bobby Holik - and no call was made. Evgeni Malkin put a free hand on Steve McCarthy to earn a holding penalty. The Thrashers did not score on this advantage.

Fleury looked pretty good tonight.

We're told that today is legendary, iconic Penguins broadcaster Mike Lange's 60th birthday. He received a standing ovation at the Mellon when this information was displayed on the jumbotron. If you wanted proof that the Flower's ankle was back to full strength, it came when he had to push off it to go from left to right to rob Vyacheslav Kozlov of a goal off a one timer. Just after this beautiful save, however, Jim Slater blasted a shot from the near wall at a sharp angle. Fleury was slightly off his angle, and the puck hit the goalpost and went into the net behind Flower's left skate. [Pens 2, Thrashers 0] Errey became (in my opinion) overly critical of MAF for allowing this goal. Steigy must have thought the same thing because he said, "Well, Bob, Jim Slater could take that shot 100 more times and that may be the only one that goes in."

We're told that the Mellon showed a short piece on the jumbotron thanking Army and Crusher for the memories. (FSN didn't show it to us, though. BOO again, FSN!!) Suddenly, the period was nearly over. There was a Thrashers frenzy in the last seconds, but it ended with the Pens still leading by a goal.

Syko just can't get one past Lehtonen.

During the intermission, we were shown highlights of Friday night's Charity Outdoor Classic in South Park. Mount Lebanon high school faced Bethel Park high school in a game that benefited Juvenile Diabetes research. The game was scoreless until the third period when Jonathan Wilen scored the only goal of the entire game to win it for Mount Lebanon. (If anyone has pictures from the game, I'd love to see them!)

Garnet Exelby battles Malone for control of the puck.

Just after the start of the second period, Pascal Dupuis fired a shot at Lehtonen that hit the goalie squarely between the eyes. Then Crusher and Army worked together to get the puck on MAF. Army was right there on MAF's doorstep trying to chip it in, but Flower kept his pads down tight to prevent his former teammate from scoring. Malone and Georges Laraque had a 2-on-1 against Zhitnik, who lay down on the ice to block the pass and break up the play. McCarthy came in quickly from behind and shoved Malone into the net on top of Lehtonen. The ref called Malone for goaltender interference (he pointed at him like Malone was a bad little boy, LOL). FSN zoomed in on the action, but in doing so, caught Malone's uncensored response ("Are you f_cking kidding me?!") On the ensuing Thrashers power play, Geno was able to steal the puck from Kovalchuk and make a shorthanded rush with Jarrko Ruutu. Ruutu ultimately ended up taking the shot against Lehtonen, who blocked the it. He didn't know where the puck was and he froze up much the same way he did in the first period for Malone's goal, but there were no Pens available to get to the loose puck. The Thrashers didn't capitalize on this advantage.

At the end of Malone's penalty, there was absolute chaos in front of MAF. Max finally got a stick on it to clear it as Malone emerged from the box. He took the puck 1-on-1, but Lehtonen made the save. Hal Gill was called for interference, and while Holik hit the goalpost on a shot, the Thrashers didn't score on their power play. Again the Pens had possession as Gill emerged from the box. Gill, Ruutu, and Geno had a 3-on-2, but it appeared that Ruutu didn't realize that Geno was there. Once he did, he passed the puck to Geno, but the pass was weak and didn't really connect.

Lehtonen plays the puck away from Dupuis.

FSN showed a clip of GARY ROBERTS!!! skating at the Mellon this morning. Errey said that he and Sid both skated, but no footage of Sid was shown. Which brings me to another point: I and several of you have been wondering where Sid has been since The Trade. He hasn't made any comment about it, no one in the media has mentioned him at all, and he was conspicuously absent from today's game - a game that saw his traded best friend's return...
* * * LATE EDIT: Thanks to several of your comments, I learned that Sid was shown in the pregame show. I was chatting with my big sis before the game secure in the knowledge that FSN always rehashes everything from the pregame show during intermissions. HA! That shows what I know! According to those who saw him, Sid was on the ice laughing and having a good time. (See comments section below for more details.) One of our Friends, Alexis, also left us a link to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution online that detailed what happened in the locker room after the game:
While Christensen and Armstrong answered questions about their return to Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby patiently waited outside the Thrashers lockerroom to chat with his old teammates.

Crosby, Armstrong's close friend and former roommate on the road, didn't play because of his knee [snoop: Um... It's his ANKLE.] injury, but Armstrong said the experience was still a little strange.

"To actually get out there against those guys, it's not as crazy as you'd think," he said. "But it was a pretty weird feeling for sure."
Ditto that feeling for the fans, Army. Thanks for the link, Alexis! :)
* * *

Letang put a big hit on Slater (it looked like David plowing into Goliath!), which gave the crowd new life. Then Holik slashed Letang and went to the box. It didn't matter, though - the Pens didn't score on their advantage. Later, Staal and Dupuis went 2-on-2, but the snow on the ice late in the period prevents either of them from controlling the puck. With just 45 seconds left in the period, Geno was called for slashing. The period ended, and the Thrashers did not score on their abbreviated power play.

Bryan Little and Geno battle for control of the puck.

The third period began with the remaining 1:14 left on Geno's penalty. Ex-Pens Joel Kwiatkowski and Army (it sucks calling him an ex-Pen!) worked together to get the puck to Koslov, who scored a goal with just 4 seconds left on Geno's penalty. [Pens 2, Thrashers 2] Later, while Army was sans stick, Tyler Kennedy missed a wide open net because Crusher got a stick on Kennedy's shot. Jeff Taffe made a run for the go-ahead goal by stealing the puck and rushing on goal with Connor James. Taffe's shot was blocked, and James was tied up by the Thrashers' defenseman, so he didn't get a chance at the rebound.

Mad Max was hip checked by Tobias Enstrom, but no call was made. Ruutu was able to draw an interference penalty on Enstrom just a few seconds later, though the Pens would not score on the advantage. Malone put a big hit on Army, upending him. Then the top line showed us the very definition of cycling the puck but couldn't squeeze a goal out of it. Brooks Orpik NAILED Kovalchuk into the boards. He just punished him! It couldn't happen to a more deserving Thrasher, though.

Crusher protects the puck from Bugsy.

Army got the puck in the corner. Now, remember, this guy's trademark is scoring weird angle goals. It was awesome when he was wearing black and gold, but he's not on our side anymore. Orpik followed Army closely and then hit Army, sending him into the corner of the net from behind. Army toppled up and over the net into the blue paint, taking the net up and over MAF. As he got up, Army looked pretty pissed. Gonch said something to Army. (Oh to be a fly on the ice!) Off a faceoff in the last minutes of the game, Kovalchuk blatantly interfered with Malone right in front of the ref, but nothing was called. The last 90 seconds of the game were very physical, but neither team could score.

The overtime 4-on-4 was insanity at both ends, but Flower and Lehtonen held their respective forts. It went to a shootout. Steigy had mused earlier in the game that it would be interesting to see MAF take on Crusher in a faceoff. He got his wish. The Pens elected to go first. Here are the results:
  • Petr Sykora → 0 (The puck went off the post.)
  • Crusher → 0 (Again, the puck went off the post.)
  • Letang → SCORES on a beautiful backhand lift over Lehtonen's pads! (see below)

  • Shootout whiz kid Letang scores the game winning goal!

  • Eric Perrin → 0 (He lost the puck while trying to go from his backhand to his forehand.)
  • Ruutu → 0 (He had Lehtonen fooled, but his shot went just wide. He slammed his stick on the ice in frustration.)
  • Kovalchuk → 0 (He tried to go 5-hole on MAF, but Flower made a SOLID pad save to win the game.)
Flower's back! Let the fight for the starting goaltender position begin!!! MAF, by the way, earned the title McDonald's Player of the Game!

MAF celebrates the win after a HUGE save on Kovalchuk! :) Welcome back, Flower!

The Pens leave tomorrow at noon and fly to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning on Tuesday. GO PENS!!!!!!!!!!


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