Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Did The Math And It Turns Out That 2-1 Is Better Than 3-0

Right off the bat, we don't win last night without Marc Andre Fleury. I don't care what you think of him, I don't care when he trips, I don't care what color his pads are or car is. Without him, we lose that game. Huge saves in the first when Pittsburgh was being outshot 9-1, monstrously huge saves in the third when the Pens were hanging on for dear life. Speaking of which, if we have a late lead Saturday night, maybe not such a defensive shell, eh, boys?

Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying tea and cucumber sandwiches, I thought, "You know, this is the kind of situation where Mario would go out, put the team on his back and score four goals." Sidney Crosby most definitely put the team on his back last night with incredible effort on every shift and his goals are equivalent to the four I imagined Mario scoring when adjusted for league scoring deflation. In other, briefer, words, it was a heroic performance by the face of the franchise. And he couldn't even legally buy a Yuengling after the game to celebrate. Which is fine, because Sidney Crosby doesn't drink and doesn't make sex on the ladies. He is a hockey cyborg dedicated to all hockey, all the time. Nickname: The Bulldog. That is now official by my decree.

This win came because the Penguins finally figured out the dump and chase game. Actually, this win came because we finally scored more goals than the other team, but that's a Beginner level lesson and this class is Intermediate at least. So, as I was saying, the dump and chase game. The Pens got the puck in deep all night and did so with purpose. Even when a dump in was knocked down by Detroit's defense, a trailing Penguin rifled the loose puck in. And the Penguins realized they should skate a little wider so Detroit couldn't get their drag chutes of obstruction working properly. Man, does that team hook and impede a lot. Those three Detroit sticks that went flying across the ice in the first period, those sticks that were formerly paralell to the ice and waist high before a Penguin bulled through them and blew them out of the defender's hand...I'm sure there was no penalty there. The only beer you'll find in the Detroit dressing room after a game? Red Hook.

Hooking isn't the only penalty Detroit likes to dabble in. They're also not afraid of diving. The swan styles of Chris Osgood have been well documented, but how about Tomas Holmstrom? The guy is so strong in front of the net. Like a giant redwood. Just locked in. So fierce, such a fighter! Until he decides he doesn't want to be and lays down on the ice like an old man going down for a nap. The first penalty on Gill? Okay, maybe. Maybe! The second? Holmstrom went down easier than (pick your least favorite Hollywood tartlet) after half a bottle of Grey Goose.

On another note, if I was on vacation somewhere and didn't drive a car for a month, I'm pretty sure I would hit a curb on my first driving excursion back on the mainland. But Darryl Sydor was able to skip a month's worth of hockey and then come back and play an amazing game against one of the fastest teams in the league in the biggest game of the year. Which is why he's the subject of the most superlatives in one paragraph. Great positioning, great with the stick, great breakout passes. Superb game.

Though when word came down that Sydor was in for Letang, my first thought was "Why not Scuderi?" I like Scuderi and I know the coaches love him, but our main problem in Detroit was our inability to start the transition game. Letang's skating and passing is crucial for that and skating and passing are not exactly Scudie's strengths. What he was planning to do on Franzen's goal is still up for debate. As Franzen went down the boards, Scuderi went over and lined up along the boards. But he didn't check Franzen and he didn't poke the biscuit away. He just kept backing up. Along the boards. Franzen, having two working eyes, realized that Scuderi just opened the middle of the ice and attacked the net for Detroit's first goal. Really bad play by #4 right there. Come on, Scudie! Scuuuuuuuuuudie!

Of course, maybe if Letang plays, he goes -4 in a loss. My friend Nate was railing about Adam Hall playing instead of Laraque, noting that Hall didn't do anything and Laraque could at least start a cycle. Naturally, Hall gets the game winner (off of a big cycle!) and the final clearing of the zone to clinch the game. Speaking of the cycle that led to the third goal, you could say that Andreas Lilja wanted no part of Gary Roberts and all you would be guilty of is an understatement. Roberts put Lilja on the train tracks and next thing you know Hall is pulling a Lemieux and banking it off the goalie's legs.

And yet, the Roberts blast wasn't nearly as fun as Brooks Orpik's quadhit supreme shift. I know they took the motor off of the dome, but the crowd noise almost jarred the roof back open last night. I half expected Orpik to finish off his shift by checking Talbot just because he was on a roll.

So what did we learn last night? Besides how loudly we can yell "GOAL!"? Well, we learned that the dump and chase is crucial to beating Detroit. It is possible to set up a cycle and force some pucks to the net. We learned that if the Penguins have a lead, Detroit pulls back the trap just far enough that the Pens can get some speed through the neutral zone. We learned that the officials will only call one out of every two Detroit penalties. We learned that Pittsburgh fans are the best American hockey fans and a big game in the Civic Arena ranks right up there with Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary. We learned that Marian Hossa is officially cursed. And we learned that we can win Game 4, but goddamn, goddamn, GODDAMN will it be another tough one.

Speaking of Game 4, I'll be watching it at a place that offers beer and food in exchange for money. Come on by and say how do! I'll be watching it with a friend of mine and a friend of his and a friend of the third guy, but overall, I understand that the breakdown will be two Red Wings fans against two Penguins fans. Hopefully, the Wings guys don't clutch and grab me whenever I go up to get a beer. And hopefully they're as smart as the Wings fans my friend Jeff encountered while watching the game at a bar in Charleston, South Carolina last night. According to local lore, jwebs07 (9:44:53 AM): they had a riveting convo about the "original four" between periods.

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