Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PENS FACE DAUNTING CHALLENGE IN D.C. AFTER HEARTBREAKING 5-4 O.T. LOSS BEFORE MELLON ARENA FANS


ABOVE: Hillary Clinton throws a kitchen sink at Barack Obama last year. They have since made up, but the Pens and Capitals have one more "go-around" scheduled for tomorrow night.

This story is starting to get old. The Penguins throw the kitchen sink at Washington's rookie goaltender, Simeon Valarmov, in this case, 18 shots in the first period, and end up with a 1-0 lead for all of their effort.

Last night, once again Marc-Andre Fleury played B+ grade hockey. Not bad and actually good enough to win against a lot of goaltenders. But Simeon Valarmov is no lesser goaltender. In handling twice the number of shots as Fleury, Valarmov stole game six from the Pens. It should have been a glorious victory, but instead it was a heartbreaking defeat for the Pens and their fans who have taken on a level of fan worship usually reserved only for the Steelers.

Now the Penguins must face going into the equally-hostile Capital Center and try to pull another rabbit out of their hat. With a world of momentum and 20,000 screaming fans, it's not going to be easy. But if any team has proven repeatedly that it can do it, it is this Penguins team that is completely unflappable.

I will forever have three images seared into my brain from last night's epic struggle:

1) Sidney Crosby has such a relentless desire to win that I'm tempted to think of him as an "alien". His passion at the end of the third period on the power play was incredible. His amazing goal, whacking a puck out of thin air, has almost become routine to us! His reflexes are so quick as to defy description.

2) I loved watching Evgeni Malkin chopping at the puck and goaltender Valarmov as though he was a lumberjack. Again, relentless is the word.

3) Finally, the image of the Rob Scuderi shot hitting the crossbar and bouncing out signaled the end of the road in this game to me. It would have been so great for a non-goal-scorer like Scuderi to have scored a goal as big as that one. But in overtime, when something like that happens it's almost as if you can say, "Well, there goes our best chance to win." Because of some obscure law of the universe, only after something as equally bizarre occurs on the other end does your team once again have a renewed chance to win.

Of course I also knew that there was a ton and a half of Bob Prince "hidden vigorish" heading into this game too. All those past overtime losses and losses in game six by Captals' teams of the past came back to roost in the ceiling of Mellon Arena. They then dropped their excess baggage from their lofty perch on the unsuspecting, unlucky, unhappy patrons below.

The only justice for the Penguins, because they have clearly been the better overall team, is to go to Washington and win the thing. Fleury needs to put his crease into lockdown mode and if he can do this, I see no way that the Pens won't win this game. The burden of winning is greater on Marc-Andre Fleury than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or any other player, even Valarmov. After all, no one was expecting this level of performance from him. It's time for the goaltender once known as "The Flower" and now known as "The Butcher" to stand up and steal game seven and this "series to end all series" once and for all.

The only question I have is left is will either of these two teams have anything left in the tank to successfully take on their third round opponent, Boston or Carolina?

Prediction: Penguins win in double overtime on another incredible Crosby goal, 3-2. Teams will both play very cautiously and focus more on defense, less on wide-open scoring chances. All players know that one mistake is all that it will take to go home.



ABOVE: Pens fans hope that Fleury has the precision of a brain surgeon and leaves his meat cleaver and apron at home.