Wednesday, June 3, 2009


That cloud of smoke that the Penguins skated through before last night's game didn't come from one of those commercial fog came from the Penguins' insane collection of fans, both inside and outside the igloo, literally willing their team to get back into the playoffs by releasing their inner genie.

Everybody who gathered at Mellon Arena last night knew the grim reality facing the Pens: They either won game three and still had a small shot at winning the Stanley Cup or lost and had a million to one long shot against winning four straight against the Detroit machine.

ABOVE: This is the stereotypical genie Aladdin. A good genie... certainly colorful enough, but I personally prefer Barbara Eden's version.

Fortunately we don't have to wonder if the Pens could have been able to win four straight against the Red Wings. A power play goal by Sergei Gonchar put the Pens ahead to stay during a suffocating third period where it really looked as though Detroit may have finally hit the wall against the younger Penguins.

Playing their third game in four nights, both teams came out with a ton of energy in the first period hoping to gain some separation. While Max Talbot opened the scoring for a relieved crowd, to their dismay, Detroit stormed back with two of their own taking another lead. But on this night and in front of this frenzied crowd the Pens would not be denied as they tied the score late in the first on a shot by defenseman Kris Letang. Letang had been rumored to be a healthy scratch before the game.

The second period became an intricate chess match with the place slower and more deliberate. Both teams were limiting each other's chances, but Detroit was still dominating the game in shots on goal. There was no scoring in the period and you almost got the feeling that it was going to be like one of those marathon races where everyone stays bunched together until the last quarter mile when it becomes an all-out sprint. Were the teams subconsciously conserving their energy for a frenetic finish?

The third period was a thing of beauty to watch. The Pens seemed to reach back for that extra bit of energy and thankfully found it. Meanwhile the Wings were often caught reacting instead of initiating. This inevitably led to a penalty situation and the ultimate awesome power play that ensued. It was Detroit in reverse for once as the Pens managed to pull the same puck possession move that Detroit has done so often in the first two games, leading to exhausted defenders. When the Pens scored you could tell that Detroit was spent.

ABOVE: What male t.v. viewer in the 70s didn't wish for a moment or several hours that they could be Larry Hagman and have a Jeanie of their very own!

Oh, they gamely fought on, but once Detroit pulled Chris Osgood, they almost immediately coughed up the puck leading to a Max Talbot laser-guided shot from half court that sealed the win. This sent 17,130 fans inside and countless other thousands of supporters outside watching on Mario's T.V., home to bed with a smile on their collective faces and thoughts of the Stanley Cup and "I Dream of Genie" dancing in their heads.

ABOVE: What the heck, since this is a dream sequence we're talking about, we might as well ought to use that excuse to show another photo of the beautiful Barbara Eden, still looking so good 35 years later!

Instead of being down 3-0 and for all purposes virtually finished, the Pens now have a very real chance of knotting the series up at two games apiece tomorrow and riding a wave of new energy and confidence back to Motown.

Even though they lost the first two games in Detroit, they did so because of some of the worst luck imaginable. Last night it was Detroit's turn to hit posts while their opponent was not even called for having six men on the ice for about 20 seconds. As Mike Emerick, the Versus Network's play-by-play man very astutely observed, "Over the course of a long series, the breaks will usually even themselves out." Very true Mike, and once the dust settles, hopefully the Pens will be the last team standing.

GAME NOTES: Once again, much of the local atmosphere was skipped over by the coverage. For example, Mike Tomlin and several Steelers taped inspirational messages and were on hand wearing Pens jerseys. Versus chose to show none of this....Mario Lemieux came out in a black suit and full playoff beard to drop the ceremonial first puck. If this city ever had a sports god of its' own, it is "Le Magnifique".....Max Talbot was the number one star scoring two of the Pens' four goals. Fleury stopped 27 of 29 shots. The Penguins managed only 21 shots on goal...Sidney Crosby finally got on the score sheet with an assist. Evgeni Malkin had three assists...Versus chose to not run a post game show so that it could run one of its' inane programs, "Sports Soup" instead. The NHL should be furious over this. For that matter, are the Stanley Cup Finals so insignificant that NBC would only broadcast the games over the weekend? If the NHL has a weakness, it is its' television package. I don't know how long the current deals run, but they can't end soon enough as far as this fan is concerned....I've said it once, but now I'll say it again: NBC deserves every bit of the bad press they get over not allowing the games they broadcast to be shown on Mario's T.V. Their rating are off the charts in this city with virtually every working television already tuned in. So how could this possibly negatively affect their numbers? Viewing the games outside is a uniquely-Pittsburgh phenomenon. I greatly resent NBC's heavy handedness in dealing with this situation. This is no way to create viewership for the NHL either. I'll personally go out of my way to avoid watching NBC...Game four is tomorrow night once again being played over at Mario's Haas and thanks to Versus, on his T.V. too.