Big Lead Sports Bar

6/05/2008

SO CLOSE...


RED WINGS 3
PENGUINS 2

Watching this season play out, the way the Penguins' 2007-08 campaign finally ended pretty much summed it all up: a talented team facing adversity gave an incredible, gutsy effort.

Down 3-1 while getting only one shot on goal through the first 16 minutes of the third period? No problem. Summon Sergei Gonchar and Marian Hossa for a little power-play magic and give us renewed hope with a minute-and-a-half remaining.

With the lid of Mellon Arena ready to be blown off, Marian Hossa's final effort trickled past Detroit goalie Chris Osgood, just inches away from tying the score as the clock ran out on the Boys of Winter.

It was an excruciating tease of what could have been.

But hockey, like football and golf, is a game of inches. A bounce here, a bounce there, and the Penguins could have won more than two games in this series. But there is no doubt that the better team won. The Penguins were the NHL's #2 team this year, and considering the age and inexperience of many of these players, there's no shame in that. But the day after, that's a message that no one wants to hear, especially the players.

As the title implies, the Penguins were both close and far in this series. Things couldn't have started much worse than back-to-back shutouts in Detroit, coming home with a 7-0 goal defecit.

There were times when this series had the feel of the 1960 World Series between the Yankees and Pirates. Yes, it was played about 20 years before I was born, but I've heard and read about it enough to know what happened.

Going into Game Seven, the Yankees won three games over the Pirates by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0. The Pirates also won three games: 6-2, 3-2, and 5-2. And as we all know, it took every bit of the seventh game, right down to the final at-bat, for the Pirates to eek out a 10-9 victory on home turf, cementing Bill Mazeroski's legacy in this town for the rest of time.

From 1947-1959, the Yankees won eight World Series and appeared in two others. Of the three years in that span that they didn't make it, their records were 94-60 (1948), 103-51 (1954), and 79-75 (1959). Their team was stocked with names like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford...and that was just in 1960, to say nothing of the DiMaggios, Rizzutos, and Billy Martins that played in the years preceding.

To tie my comparison together, the Penguins were outshot by the following margins in this series: 36-19, 34-22, 34-24, 30-23, 58-32, and 30-22. True, shots alone don't win games, but they certainly give you an indication of who is in possession of the puck, and that was not the Penguins. They scored a grand total of 10 goals in six games, with seven of those 10 coming in just two games. They were facing a Red Wings team absolutely stocked with experienced, Stanley Cup-winning talent.

And much like the 1960 Pirates, these Penguins bridged the apparent gap between the two championship contestants with an amazing effort and a never-say-die attitude. After the series' start, few would have been surprised to see a sweep. But a funny thing happened on the way to that four-game series: the Penguins made it a series. This is not a team that packs it in.

The obstacles in the Penguins' path were many. First and foremost was the ridiculous Detroit defense, which was somehow able to totally neutralize the red-hot Pens, who had just had their way with the entire Eastern Conference. At times it was felt like trying to penetrate the Steel Curtain defense.

The Red Wings were able to hold Evgeni Malkin to a mere one goal for the entire series. The Penguins' goal scoring was very top-heavy, with three of their 10 from Hossa, two from Sidney Crosby, and two from the surprisingly efficient Adam Hall. Ryan Malone, Pascal Dupuis, and Gary Roberts were held to just one assist each. Jordan Staal failed to crack the scoring ledger.

With the lack of scoring production came the increased importance of other factors. Marc-Andre Fleury certainly silenced any remaining doubters who failed to notice his 19-10-2, 2.33 regular season or his 12-2 record coming into the Finals. Brooks Orpik and Hal Gill did their part to make the Red Wings sore on a regular basis. For inspirational purposes, you could look at a number of guys playing hurt, most notably Gonchar and Malone. There was the added lift from veterans Roberts and Daryl Sydor. And of course, no one will forget the efforts of Max Talbot or Petr Sykora in the near future.

Even on the losing end, it was as heroic an effort as anyone could have asked for. The Penguins gave, gave, and gave up until the final buzzer. Sadly, it was not to be this year. And I realize we can't take any future Finals appearances for granted, but the future is certainly bright.

So today, the offseason officially begins. GM Ray Shero is in a tough situation, as some combination of Hossa, Roberts, Dupuis, Hall, Malone, Orpik, Ty Conklin, Georges Laraque, and Jarkko Ruutu will surely sign for greater dollars elsewhere. But as he's proven time and time again, he's more than competent at his job. And while I'd love to see a guy like Hossa back in the black and gold next season, the Penguins will be a challenger for the crown regardless of who stays or goes.

To the Penguins, we thank you for an incredible, memorable season. From the October 5th opener against Carolina to the Winter Classic to the climactic finale last night, it will be regarded as a year for the ages.

The great thing for fans about playing this late into the season? Training camp's only a few short months away. I'm sure this nucleus will be more than ready to finish what they started.

9 comments:

Cecil from Cecil Twp. said...

Well, put, Mondesi. A fine season, indeed.

But it had to be tough for anyone in attendance to see the Cup paraded around on the Arena ice for the first time.

I know it was odd to watch it on TV.

Hats off to the fans who stayed. For the first 5 minutes at least, it looked as though almost the entire crowd had stayed for the ceremony. I've never seen so many visiting teams stay to see the Cup awarded in my years of watching hockey.

HotDog_Zanzabar said...

These last two months flew by. It's hard to imagine that they're only three short months away from training camp. No wonder it is so hard to repeat. These guys are physically battered and two months behind the rest of the leagues conditioning programs.

Marian Hossa needs resigned. If he is the only guy that they retain then so be it, but world class players aren't replaceable. Guys like Malone and Orpik can be replaced. I hate that I just typed that, but their visibility in the Stanley Cup probably netted them a couple more million than the market should bear. Comparable players can be lured here with the promise of playing along Sid, Geno and Co., and they might take less money to play for a winner.

World of Isaac said...

It was weird...it was a strange 6 game series...the Wings probably dominated all but 3/4 periods the entire series but yet couldn't put the Pens away the last couple of games

Nipsy said...

I've carried around a little black book for the last 15 years or so thats only had one name written in it.....Sid Bream. Late last night I penned in "Chris Osgood."

Seriously, just look back to a few months ago when it was generally accepted that the west was dominant, and we were just hoping to make a deep run in the east. I never really heard an honest prediction that had the Pens going beyond the finals. Nothing to be ashamed about. Detroit played the best hockey I’ve ever seen. They would’ve destroyed anyone else. That was probably the most enjoyable season of sports I've seen in the 26 years I've been on this earth. MY BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT IS THAT IT'S OVER, NOT HOW IT ENDED.

I've been following the Pens religiously for the past few years and the more I watch them, the less I like the Steelers. Everything from the player attitudes to the way the organization is run is better in almost every way. Every time I see Hines Ward drop a pass next season, I'm just gonna tell myself, "Fleury could've caught that." And the way the crowd reacted was unreal. Heinz Field would've quieted down after every opponent score and emptied out within 5 seconds after the clock hit zero. That fact that the fans stayed for the Cup and actually cheered on the team and Fleury, who would've been the goat of Heinz Field, was amazing. THAT WAS A VERY, VERY PROUD MOMENT FOR PITTSBURGH SPORTS.

Robert Ullman said...

I feel you on the Steelers, Nipsy...I'll probably feel different come August, but the Stanley Cup playoffs just make the NFL seem so boring, overexposed and corporate.

weezy f. baby said...

not to change subjects Mondesi, but isnt tonight the thirsty thursday minor league baseball appearance by Skippy?

Koz said...

@ Nipsy

::standing ovation::

Well put, my friend. I agree with you 100%

talkinproud said...

Congrats to the Pens for making this an entertaining finals and never giving up. My dad's a Pittsburgh native so it was great staying up with him to watch Game 5 just like he did with me for Game 6 back in '99 when the Sabres lost to Dallas.

It's always a little creepy watching the visiting team parade around your rink with the cup. I thought the fans were classy enough from what I saw on TV but:

http://bfloblog.wnymedia.net/?p=3266

Thoughts / Anyone there?

I thought that puck was going in at the end -- heartbreak.

Cecil from Cecil Twp. said...

C'mon, guys. Comparing the NHL to the NFL is ridiculous. You're in the vast minority if you seriously think the NHL is superior.

Much as I love the Pens and think the playoffs were outstanding, the last two games in particular, the national TV ratings were the equivalent of an NFL pre-season game in the middle of August.