Well. Where do I begin?
I'd been planning a post on why Marc-Andre Fleury isn't yet an elite goaltender. Something about his inconsistency - i.e. having a performance like in Game 5, then turn around and excel the next game - and how he has a tendency to get into trouble with giving up big rebounds, allow a soft goal at a most inopportune time - think Daniel Cleary's goal in Game 5 - and not handle the puck all that well, which can lead to badness.
All of that will probably still be true when the 2009-10 season begins. But one thing that can be added to Fleury's description is Stanley Cup champion.
The 24-year-old goalie turned in two of the finest games of his career when the Penguins needed them most, in elimination Game 6 and Game 7, with the Stanley Cup on the line.
In Pittsburgh, we call Frank Pietrangelo's stop on Peter Stastny in Game 6 of the 1991 first round, when Stastny had about nine-tenths of the net to shoot at, "The Save." Well, Pietrangelo covered up the other one-tenth with his glove and that's where Stastny shot the puck. The Penguins went on to win the game and Game 7 en route to their first Stanley Cup.
Fleury's two big stops at the end, particularly the diving save on Nicklas Lidstrom, one of the finest defensemen to ever play the game, just before time expired, plus the incredible glove save on Cleary's breakaway near the end of Game 6, will join Pietrangelo's save in Pittsburgh lore. Maybe Fleury's critics, who lambasted him after the first two games and after Game 5, will quiet a little. At least until he gives up his first goal next season.
I wouldn't really have been surprised if Fleury was named the Conn Smythe winner. I didn't expect it, as some of Fleury's early round performances didn't exactly inspire confidence, but he was by far the Penguins' best player in each of the victories in the finals. I can't give him enough credit for how he played when the Penguins' backs were against the wall. Plus his defense corps in front of him, who collectively blocked 20 shots in the final game, including five by Brooks Orpik, who also had nine hits.
Although, after the Penguins took a 2-0 lead, the play was almost always in the Pittsburgh end of the ice. That was distressing and led one to drink even before there was a valid reason to do so. I wasn't too thrilled with that part, and that's on the whole team.
But, more on that 2-0 lead. Some of us in my section in Mellon Arena have taken to calling Max Talbot, "Superstar." This stems from some commercials he made with a local car dealership, which brags about treating every client the same way, as if they're a star. Talbot believes he's receiving superstar treatment, while the owners say everyone gets the same deal.
Well, Talbot played like a superstar Friday night. He was the only forward to score a goal in Game 7, opening the scoring early in the second period after a Detroit clearing attempt went off Evgeni Malkin's skate, then Talbot doubled the lead on a great shot midway through the period. On the second goal, Chris Kunitz - who had just one goal in the playoffs, but still played a lot of productive minutes - made a great play, reaching a loose puck and taking a hit to get the puck up to Talbot.
In a series that featured such star power names as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Marian Hossa, it was Talbot who played a huge hand in deciding the winner.
Talbot scored four goals in the series, as he also netted two in the Game 3 victory. He finished the playoffs with eight goals and 13 points, including four and six in the finals. Hossa, by the way, reverted to his lack of production in the playoffs that he was so harshly criticized for before last season. He did not score a goal and had only three points in the finals, and finished the playoffs with six goals and 14 points.
As I mentioned earlier, Pittsburgh seemed to stop playing, or was simply overwhelmed, after going ahead 2-0. I don't know how many shots the Penguins registered after Talbot's second goal, but they finished with only 18, including just one in the third period. From the time it was 2-0 until the final buzzer, Pittsburgh was in complete survival mode. I didn't expect the lead to hold up.
Jonathan Ericsson's goal after a long, long, long shift in Pittsburgh's end made things exciting, and Niklas Kronwall hit the crossbar with 2:14 left. The Penguins might've made things easier on themselves if they could've won a faceoff, but I believe they won only one in the entire third period, and that was by an injured Crosby. I could be misremembering, but I think they had 13 faceoff wins after the second period. They finished with 14. Under the new math, that means they won one in the third.
Pittsburgh played over half the game - almost two-thirds - without Crosby, who was injured in a collision with Johan Franzen. That contributed to the Penguins' inability to maintain any kind of offensive presence, but even without Crosby, Pittsburgh simply couldn't corral Detroit's attack. The Penguins seemed content to just dump the puck to the center red line and start the process all over. I guess it's tough to argue with the result, but it's not a way to win games consistently. The thing is, of course, is there aren't any more games to win for a few months.
I'll stop things here, but later Saturday or Sunday I'll have a post with some leftover Finals notes and facts. There are a lot of other interesting numbers and tidbits and I think they merit their own post.