Sunday, June 14, 2009

Penguins top 10 playoff moments


Sorry, I can't help myself.

In reverse order, here are my 10 favorite moments from the Penguins' playoff run. Everyone loves lists, right?

10. Bill Guerin's overtime winner (First round, Philadelphia, Game 2)

Any playoff overtime goal is cause for celebration. There's really nothing else like it in any other sport. This one gave the Penguins a 3-2 win and a 2-0 series lead. It came on a 5-on-3 after Philadelphia's Mike Knuble took a careless penalty in the offensive zone, while the Flyers were on a power play, then Claude Giroux was called for slashing.

The goal was Guerin's second of the game and was made possible when Evgeni Malkin scored a power play goal with 3:37 remaining to tie the score.

Philadelphia played much better than in Game 1 and easily could've won. Guerin's clutch play (I won't say "heroics") prevented that.

9. Marc-Andre Fleury's save on Jeff Carter (First round, Philadelphia, Game 2)

Guerin's goal wouldn't have been possible if Fleury hadn't absolutely robbed Philadelphia center Jeff Carter, owner of 46 regular-season goals. The Flyers led, 2-1, and the puck came to Carter who had a gaping net to shoot at. Fleury stuck his leg back and blocked the shot with his toe. Not long after, the Penguins went on a power play and tied the score.

8. Kris Letang's overtime goal (Second round, Washington, Game 3)

Here's a funny story from this game. After Game 2, there were reports that Letang was injured and might miss Game 3. For most of Pittsburgh's power plays, I was pulling my hair out over Letang's inability to one-time the puck in a prime scoring location. I remarked several times to my friend, "We should've dressed Philippe Boucher."

I happily ate my words when Letang notched his first career playoff goal off a one-timer after Sidney Crosby won a faceoff in the attacking zone for a crucial 3-2 win. Pittsburgh trailed in the series, 2-0, and a loss in Game 3 essentially would've ended the season.

7. Evgeni Malkin's overtime winner (Second round, Washington, Game 5)

I'm a superstitious person. I feel no shame over this. Earlier in the postseason, I had to head to work and had to listen to the third period of Pittsburgh's Game 6 win over Philadelphia on the radio. But, I reasoned, maybe they ended up winning because I wasn't watching.

I went with the same philosophy for this game. This time it was the reverse. I had an unusually and unexpectedly long day at work and I left for home after the third period. I'd decided to stay in my car until someone scored, even if it meant driving around aimlessly.

Well, no sooner did I drive past my driveway - about three or four seconds after - did Malkin's pass deflect off defenseman Tom Poti into the net for a 4-3 win.

6. Malkin's hat trick goal (Conference finals, Carolina, Game 2)

This goal was one of the most unbelievable I've ever seen in person, and, getting to watch Malkin and Crosby, I see a lot. And it's only sixth on this list. It made the score of Game 2 of the conference finals 6-4 (7-4 final) and capped a dominating performance by Geno.

Words can't describe it, so I'll let the video try.

Watching it again makes me want to put it higher on the list. But...

5. Jordan Staal's shorthanded goal (Finals, Detroit, Game 4)

The significance and timing of the top five is what bumps each ahead of Malkin's hat trick, and it starts with the shorthanded goal Staal scored to tie Game 4 of the finals.

Trailing in the series, 2-1, and facing a must-win game at home, the Penguins trailed the game, 2-1, and were on their second-straight penalty kill in quick succession. The Red Wings could've won the series with a goal on either power play. Instead, not only did they not score, but they allowed a shorthanded tally on a great play by the much-maligned Staal. The goal was the first of three by Pittsburgh in a span of 5:37 and changed the fortune of the game and the series.

4. Fleury's save on Alex Ovechkin (Second round, Washington, Game 7)

The save on Carter could be an all-timer. But it doesn't come close to the save Fleury made on the probable two-time MVP, Ovechkin.

The situation: Game 7. In Washington. Scoreless game. Three minutes in. Ovechkin gets a breakaway, the chance to get his team the crucial first goal, and Fleury stonewalled him with the glove.

I don't know what the game will be remembered for more, the Penguins scoring the first five goals and winning 6-2, or Fleury's save.

Fleury didn't have a very good series overall but made up for it with that stop.

3. Fleury's save on Daniel Cleary (Finals, Detroit, Game 6)

Then he duplicated it against Detroit's Daniel Cleary in the Stanley Cup finals. Cleary isn't as offensively skilled as Ovechkin, but he has been a clutch performer for the Red Wings and has plenty of goal-scoring ability.

So while facing - and stopping - Ovechkin is more impressive than stopping Cleary, the stakes of the Cleary breakaway were far higher. Pittsburgh was one loss from its season ending but just over a minute away from extending it. A Brooks Orpik turnover - and Cleary's speed - in a one-goal game created the chance.

To this point, Fleury had to devote more time to fending off his critics rather than the Wings. He can't win a big-time game, they said. He can't come up with a huge save when his team needs it, they said.

Well, he stopped Cleary, who probably would've won the Cup for Detroit if he scores. The Penguins would've let a 2-0, third-period lead slip away on home ice and would've faced an overtime against an explosive offense that almost entirely controlled the third period with their playoff lives in further jeopardy.

Fleury didn't let that happen. (Then Rob Scuderi helped later.)

2. Max Talbot's fight with Philadelphia's Daniel Carcillo (First round, Philadelphia, Game 6)

Get this. I once was going to write up a post saying fighting was an overrated game-changer. I'd changed my mind - having convinced myself that I was wrong - and deleted the draft. Well, the Talbot-Carcillo bout is Exhibit A for how much of an effect a fight can have on a team, on a game.

The Penguins had lost Game 5 at home in their first chance to knock out the Flyers and advance. In Game 6 in Philadelphia, the Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Shortly after the third goal, in the second period, Talbot got Carcillo to drop the gloves, and Carcillo pummeled Talbot. On his way to the penalty box, Carcillo lifted his arms to the crowd to get them louder. Talbot put a finger to his lips in the classic 'Shhhh!' pose.

That was an awesome moment by Talbot. Then, just 14 seconds after the fight, Ruslan Fedotenko scored to make things 3-1. Less than two minutes later, Mark Eaton tallied a goal, and suddenly it was 3-2. Crosby tied the game before the period ended, and Sergei Gonchar scored early in the third period for a 4-3 Penguins lead. Crosby added an empty-netter, and that was the series.

The fight is what seemed to turn things around.

1. Fleury's save on Nicklas Lidstrom, Sidney Crosby lifting the Cup

I guess technically this would be my top 11, and a tie for No. 1, but they go hand-in-hand, so I count it as just one.

When I saw Lidstrom closing in on the loose puck at the end of Game 7, I thought, "Oh no..." with a sinking feeling in my chest. I expected Lidstrom to score. I think a lot - if not all - of the people in Joe Louis Arena thought that. Fleury made himself big, dove down and took the puck in his chest. A second later, the horn sounded and the Penguins began celebrating.

My favorite part of the Cup celebration was when the other players elicited a collective roar after Crosby took the trophy from Gary Bettman and lifted it over his head.

Just like a weight I'm sure was lifted off Crosby's shoulders for winning the Stanley Cup, I feel one has been lifted off the shoulders of Penguins fans. Although most of the core is under 25, I didn't want to be one of those teams who had great players but failed to win a championship with any of them (like the Utah Jazz with Karl Malone and John Stockton, or Patrick Ewings' Knicks, etc.) Hopefully there will be more.

OK, that's about it. Awards ceremony is Thursday.

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