Just watching this series, even while watching it with a stray eye from afar in Washington, was exhausting. For fans, for media, for bloggers, for everyone alike.
Just imagine how it is actually playing the games.
The Penguins showed in Game 7 that they did, in fact, want it more. They played harder and more aggressive for the better part of the game. They played smarter for the entire game and didn’t allow for Detroit to wheel and deal the way they like to.
Most importantly, and this was something I made it a point to say both last year and this, their third and fourth lines responded better than Detroit’s did, a point that was made emphatically in Game 7 by Maxime Talbot scoring both Pittsburgh goals. Talbot last year was the lone player on Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines who proved to be a burr in the side of the Red Wings.
This year, Talbot solidified himself as a folk hero win or loss given how he handled himself against the Capitals and how he played smartly and selflessly throughout the playoffs. I know that the folks in Pittsburgh’s blogging circles will write folk songs and sing the praises of guys like Crosby, Fleury and Malkin but Talbot is the guy for whom much of Pens fans adulation and warm memories from here on out will be saved for.
In this go-round, Talbot had sustained help from Ruslan Fedotenko – a guy who already has Stanley Cup folk hero status for the last 25 Tampa Bay Lightning fans that haven’t been run off by the new owners there. Adding characters like Craig Adams and Fedotenko helped solidify the other lines for Pittsburgh helping younger players like Tyler Kennedy and Jordan Staal feel more at home working the grinder lines and realizing that by doing their job checking and defending you can still find a way to pot a goal or two.
Pieces like that are what the team was missing last year and they were able to capitalize best on playing the aggressive forecheck (you know, like I kept saying they ought to do) and put pressure on Detroit’s defense.
No, not Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski – those guys you can’t exactly rattle. Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall however…
To this point in the playoffs, I had been singing the praises of Brad Stuart as his play through the first three rounds had been solid if not spectacular. In the Finals, however, Stuart’s efforts in Game 7 are what folks are going to be paying attention to. Stuart took a bad slashing penalty in the first period and had a brutal turnover and mis-timed moment to pinch in leading to both of Maxime Talbot’s goals.
Having that kind of résumé in an elimination game will often get a guy run out of town. For Stuart, it’s a Finals he’d like to forget as his play suffered. Whether that be from his own mistakes or for having to perpetually look out for Niklas Kronwall who would take himself out of plays looking to deliver a hit elsewhere or do too much on the puck it’s tough to say.
For all the advances that Kronwall seemed to make last season in his play after finally finding a way to remain healthy, I couldn’t help but find myself watching him to see how he would handle himself and his positioning. A lot of the time he’s solid, but there’s enough brain farting going on that teams were finding ways to expose him.
I hammered on a lot of this after Game 3 of this series and his +/- rating didn’t change after Game 3. In Games 4 and 5 he pulled in a +1 rating and in Game 6 he was even.
Yeah, you guessed it, he was a -2 in Game 7 along with Brad Stuart. Game 7 saw plenty of reckless play from the two of them and if anything that -2 was well earned on their part. The poor unfortunate guy that had to deal with all that was Chris Osgood who truly played stellar all throughout this series and the playoffs.
For Pittsburgh though, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin was the story from beginning to end.
Enough about Crosby and him captaining the team to the win – I’m done with that. Good for him for winning but it’s not because of him they were able to beat Detroit. Not in Game 7 and not in the rest of the series. He’s the guy you’re going to get forced down your throats from now until Lord knows when, but it’s got to be eating him up how much more sound the Penguins play when he’s not around. Malkin carried this team last year while Crosby was out with an injury and he carried the team again in Game 7 when Crosby left with an injury in the second period after taking a hit from Johan Franzen.
This was Malkin’s baby from the start of the playoffs and he earned it. Worst of all? Fans in North America aren’t going to hear enough about him because he’s Russian and speaks poor English and the NHL can’t wrap their head around marketing players that don’t come from North America.
Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve got a full-blown man-crush on the Hart Trophy candidates this year (Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Malkin) but the league can’t do anything with them. This is why if you too are a Twitter user you should be following Dmitry Chesnokov, one of the contributors at Yahoo’s Puck Daddy.
He’s Russian and gets all the juicy interviews with the Russian stars and gets the personality out of them that the NHL is too ignorant or lazy to try for and hey, guess what, Russian players aren’t the robots you see elsewhere around the league.
Look at it this way, when your favorite Russian player is giving a poorly-worded interview in English, that guy is a regular Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull when interviewed in Russian.
It’s so frustrating to see such marketing ability available here and no one putting it to use it’s even managed to derail my Stanley Cup wrap up.
I know a lot is going to get made about how Herr Bettman’s wet dream finally came true here, and it did let’s not think differently, but what we’ve got here is a damn spanking nice little cross-conference rivalry teeming over with superstars. Canadians, Russians, Swedes, Finns and Slovaks all over the place.
Sets the stage pretty nicely for Vancouver in 2010 now, doesn’t it?
Don’t worry, training camps open in three months and the NHL Draft is two weeks away with the Free Agency window opening soon after that.
The off-season begins now.