Tuesdays With Stoosh: 4.19

 
I’m mailing it in this week with a Game Three Liveblog and thoughts on the playoff series thus far. So from the couch at Chateau du Stoosh, accompanied by Nancy Stoosh and chateau guard dog Buddy Stoosh, let’s pick things up with the….
 
FIRST PERIOD

Hey, it’s 85 degrees, hot and humid in Tampa!  In April!  Who could’ve ever imagined that? Warm weather in Florida. You don’t say. But hey, all’s well…the Ice Guru is here.

Back and forth and back and forth for the first couple of minutes. Big hit in the corner and Malone looks to be hurt. He tried to line Neal up and it looked like he just missed or maybe hit Neal awkwardly. Malone got up and went right to the bench. Not good for Tampa.

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And there’s Downie, making an appear…GOAL PENS!  Talbot!  What the hell just happened? Puck’s in the net…Pens have scored. Talbot smokes Roloson with a beautiful shot from the high slot while all hell was breaking loose behind Fleury.

Someone might be dead behind the Pens net.  It’s Lovejoy, who got absolutely belted by Downie. God, that looked just like Downie’s hit on McAmmond a few years ago.

Downie might have a death wish tonight. The replays aren’t pretty…so similar to his hit on McAmmond a few years ago. He clearly left his feet on the hit on Lovejoy. Clearly delivered a high hit. Clearly has a history of this like this (Dean McAmmond), and was suspended for a hit just like it a few years ago. Won’t be suspended because Lovejoy was able to get up and remember his name right away.

Love it. Downie takes himself out of a play to make a senseless hit, play goes the other way and results directly in a goal. This looks like a familiar movie – Steve Downie losing his presence of mind in a big playoff moment and costing his team a goal. Where oh where on earth have we seen this before? Oh, yes, it was the 2008 series against the Flyers, when Downie loses his focus, commits a couple of elementary “WTF are you thinking?” turnovers that cost the Flyers two goals. Never thought it was possible for someone to dumbass their way out of Philadelphia, but ladies and gentlemen, Steve Downie.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=t2VwBF27bEY

AND AGAIN! Asham makes it 2-0!  Mike Rupp generates a goal with a rush up the right wing after taking a pass, uses the dek hockey move (chip off the boards to go around a defenseman) to go by a stationary d-man (was that Hedman?), and feathers a pass over to Asham, who buries it.

Remember all that talk prior to the season about how well Asham would fit in given that he was a once-hated Flyer? Pretty sure that went out the window the moment he put on his first Pens practice jersey. What a celebration by Asham and Rupp after that goal – two guys who have spent a good portion of their respective careers prior to this season beating the absolute shit out of each other. 

Upon further review, it WAS Hedman who Rupp turned into a pylon at the blueline. WOW. Victor Hedman will probably be a very good defenseman for a long time in the NHL. But having a guy like Mike Rupp go around and past you on a goal like that? I know Rupp’s a big guy, but Hedman’s 6’6”, too. Not one for the career highlight reel.

Crowd has effectively been reduced to random noisemaking with those thunder drum things. Not sure how they sound live, but over the broadcast, it sounds like either someone blew out a guitar amp, or a giant swarm of bees is hanging around the arena mikes. Awful. This would get old in about three minutes if you were actually at the game.

Ack. Kunitz. Well, then there’s that. Five mintues after Downie attempts to decapitate Lovejoy, Kunitz may be looking at a suspension as well. He threw the elbow out on Gagne. That’s ugly. Luckily it mostly missed and Gagne looked to be OK, but there’s no way to excuse that. Dammit.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz has no history of these sorts of things. Don’t believe he’s ever been suspended, and while he’s a physical player, he’s never been known to be close to an edgy one. Still a dumb play. More on this later.

Now a horrible call on Kovalev. Ohlund blatantly cross-checks Kovalev, knocking him into Roloson. Kovy goes off for goaltender interference. Official was right there. How do you call that when the official is looking right at Ohlund? That’s a call a ref makes when he looks at the scoreboard, sees a team up 2-0 early and decides it’s time to make things interesting. Bullshit call.

Not sure what’s more maddening – the inconsistency in the degrees of latitude that officials afford teams from game to game, or the NHL’s insistence on whistling past the graveyard when this issue is brought up with legitimate evidence to support it.

Talbot hasn’t put together a 3-4 week stretch of hockey this solid since the 2009 playoffs.

And of course, Tampa converts. St. Louis gets a chip-in after a couple of loose pucks bounce off Fleury’s pads. Wonder if Sutherland and LaRue get the assists on this one?

Not sure what’s worse – Choochie McSoulpatch on the Baierl commercial or the fact that someone got paid to come up with that shit. This commercial actually makes me not consider your dealership the next time I buy a car. Thanks, Baierl! One less trip I have to make.

 
SECOND PERIOD 

Pens got a late powerplay to end the first, so they start the second a man up and with a fresh sheet of ice. Same old result. It’s getting better. Not scoring, but it’s getting better chances. None of that means anything unless they score but at this point, any progress is good progress. I’d love to know what Shero’s thinking as he watches this, and how he may fix it. The Pens obviously have guys missing, and maybe things would be much, much different if Sid and/or Geno would be in there. It’s hard to say because the powerplay wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire when those guys were healthy earlier this year.

Potash just announced Malone is questionable to return. Hurt himself trying to light up Neal early in the first and took just a couple of odd shifts late in the first. Upper-body injury. That could be a big factor over the rest of the series if he’s injured to any significant degree, given that Malone is their best physical presence among their forwards.

Heard from a few people via Twitter who were at the game that it’s hotter than hell in that arena tonight. That means a potentially long night of bouncing pucks.

Well, so much for that. Malone is back. In all honesty, we saw firsthand a few years ago that it’ll take a big-time injury to keep him out of playoff games.

How about the two kids on the boards who tried to rip off the Vancouver Green Men, only to give up after about 10 minutes?  They were in the bright green spandex suits behind one of the nets. They did the Green Men’s “flailing arm” thing for about two minutes early in the first period. Since then, they’ve been sitting there doing nothing, to the point that they ditched the masks over the heads. Here’s a tip: Leave the act to the guys in Vancouver, folks. It works because they’re actually funny.

Staal is THISCLOSE to putting the puck in Hedman’s skates and pulling it through, a la Lemieux on Ray Bourque. He almost pulled the move off. Hedman’s probably had better days than this, no?

Roloson takes his time playing a puck and clearing it up the middle of the ice…has no idea Conner was bearing down on him. Split second longer and Conner would’ve knocked it in right off Roloson’s stick. Would’ve been the best pass Conner ever got.

Orpik gets elbowed or shouldered or high-sticked in his face. No call. He might kill someone. (On replay, it looks like he may have just accidentally hit heads with one of the Tampa players).

Nerves city and it’s just the second period. I love hockey. I love playoff hockey. But when the Pens are leading in a playoff game, I almost wish the game would just end. Just get us out of here with a split.

Hmmm, kind of funny…lots of NHL media types blasting Kunitz on Twitter for his elbow on Gagne, but next to nothing mentioned by anyone about the Downie hit on Lovejoy.  Almost seems like some media types are still quick to blame the Pens for any infraction. A product of the Matt Cooke fallout?

AND NO, THAT LAST STATEMENT WAS NOT A DEFENSE OF MATT COOKE. Just making an observation.

Pens to the powerplay late in the second. Downie to the box. Would love to see them make him pay here.

And Neal gets absolutely robbed by Roloson. Dear God this kid can’t buy a goal right now. Earlier in the game, he had an open net, got knocked off balance, shot high and hit the post. Now he gets flat-out robbed by Roloson. Never seen a player miss by such small margins.

Still 2-1 Pens, end of second.  Whew.

 
INTERMISSION

Ever wonder if Lemieux just randomly throws on the skates and spends an hour skating around, firing pucks at the net on the ice at Consol? Not that he does it during his lunch break or anything like that. Or maybe he does. Or maybe it’s 3:00 AM, he can’t sleep and there’s nothing on the tube, so he grabs the keys to the Lemieux family truckster, heads downtown to the arena (what, you don’t think he has keys, or his own special entrance?) and has the entire place to himself. Maybe Shero joins him and this is when they plot league domination. This happens once a week, I’ll bet.

 
THIRD PERIOD

And here we go again. The ice isn’t even dry yet and the officials whistle Martin for a horribly tacky call to open the third. Martin got tied up with someone on Tampa (Lecavalier?) and gets knocked, actually pushed backwards. On the way down, he wraps an arm around the Tampa player’s leg, and gets called for holding. Weak. It’s a weak-ass call.  And of course, Tampa converts on the powerplay.

AND KENNEDY GETS IT BACK a minute later. Shot to the net by Orpik, traffic in front and Kennedy takes out the garbage. Huge response by him.  First goal in 14 playoff games per Steigy.  That means he hasn’t scored since the Stanley Cup Final in 2009.

Energy taken out of the building again. If Pens can respond here, it would be huge.

I get the same feeling every time St. Louis gets the puck and heads up ice that I had in the 2009 second round when Ovechkin had the puck.

Conner doing unreal work on the boards. Want to know why he’s in there over Comrie? That’s why. Pound for pound, he’s incredibly strong on the wall. Not bagging on Comrie. I just think Conner plays that role more completely and more effectively.

Mad scramble in front of the net. Rupp cleans Malone out, and then keeps hitting him. Penalty.  *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* At this point, if the Pens had a gun, they’d have blown off both of their feet.

Tampa’s PP illustrates so much of what is wrong with the Pens’ powerplay. Two huge differences between the two – 1) Tampa moves the puck much quicker from player to player, and 2) Tampa wastes little to no time getting the shot to the net. They don’t allow the penalty killers to set up or get to lanes. What a huge difference. Pens need to stop putting these guys on the ice.

But all that said, Pens kill Rupp’s penalty. Great job there by the penalty kill. Love that Disco gives the forwards on the PK the clear to rush up the ice and not just dump it in. Staal gathered a loose puck, turned up ice right away to try to generate a rush, wheeled up at the blueline and then dumped it in. The wasted time forced TB to make a change and get Lecavalier and Gagne off the ice.

Conner, Talbot and Dupuis generate a great chance 9 minutes in. Conner wheeled out in front, had Roloson down, and Lecavalier just managed to get a stickcheck on Conner.

If Dominic Moore had been this visible when he was a Penguin, Shero never would’ve shipped his ass out of here. Traded to Minnesota for a third-round pick that was eventually used to draft Casey Pierro-Zabotel.

6:30 left – Roloson almost hands the puck right to Dupuis, then Roloson falls flat on his ass making the save.  Roloson’s been all over the ice tonight, just like he was in Game One.

5:00 to go.  Pens calmly enter the zone in a 3-on-2, started by beautiful stickhandling and passing by Letang to get out of the Pens’ zone. What a game Letang is having, so much better than Game Two.

3:45 to go. Neal back-checking like Sid. Hate to see this kid getting dogged the way he has been at times. Been over this before, but I can’t re-iterate this enough. Neal is the furthest thing from what Ponikarovsky was last year. Neal is a solid player in all three zones.  Yes, he needs to convert, but he’s very strong in many facets of his game. Hit a post tonight and also got robbed on an unreal saved by Roloson.

1:00 left.  Father Time in the building and Roloson to the bench.

30 seconds. Huge battle for the puck at the top of the circles. Puck goes airborne and Michalek bats it down the ice out of midair. Unbelievable. Michalek has been better than advertised.

15 seconds….Scramble in front of Fleury moves behind the net. Adams tries to hem it along the boards.  Clear it!

dhcadshklfhal

Back to Brewer blocked!  GAME OVER! 

And, exhale.

 
Two-games-to-one series lead. Life is good.
 
Thoughts, dudes:
 

Pens now 10-1 in Game Threes under Bylsma.

Interesting stat by Grover tonight on the post-game. Tampa has seven goals in the series – four on the powerplay, one shorthanded, and just two at even strength. Another indication of just how much the Pens are dominating play at even strength.

Method to Shero’s madness: Asham was one of the Flyers’ unsung heroes on their run to the Cup Finals last year.  I don’t think that went unnoticed by Shero earlier this summer.  Two goals in the playoffs so far is exactly why Asham was brought in.

Excellent point by Bylsma in the post-game press conference. Lovejoy knew he was going to get clocked by Downie and made the play anyway.  There are a lot of defensemen of a, um…, much higher profile (*coughmikegreencough*) who don’t make that play seeing that hit coming.

I hate to say this, but Kunitz deserves whatever he gets in terms of a suspension. If he somehow comes away with nothing, he’ll be lucky. Kunitz is a tough and physical player, but he’s never been known to throw hits to the head. So this is probably Kunitz losing his cool momentarily and seeking retribution for what Downie – a proven on-ice menace dating back to juniors – attempted to do to Lovejoy. And while there’s something to be said for Kunitz sticking up for a teammate against a predatory punk like Downie, Kunitz has to be smarter than deciding to do it with an elbow. 

 
The Pens have enough prominent names out of the lineup right now and can’t afford to lose any more, even if it’s just for a game. Kunitz has to know better there.
 

Love the fact that we’re in the middle of the playoffs – one of the best times of the year for on-ice action and drama – with a number of entertaining series going on, and every night there’s another headshot or three drawing more discussion than the on-ice action.

When it comes to media scrums, Tyler Kennedy has stock on “fershure” like Mario had stock on “obviously”.

Still no idea whether Crosby makes it back. If he does, swell. Great. Bonus. If not, we’ll see him in September.

 
Game Four is huge tomorrow night. That goes without saying. It’s the playoffs and every game is huge.  Tampa Bay is in this series by virtue of their power play, so you can bet they’re going to be throwing everything they can at Fleury in Game Four. If they can crash four guys around that crease area, they will. Whatever they can do to draw penalties, they’ll attempt. 
 
The Pens have been dominant at even-strength in this series so far. If they can stay out of the box and continue to the work on the boards that they’ve done in Games One and Three in the offensive zone, they can send this thing back to Pittsburgh with a chance to close it out in Game Five.
 
Buckle up, folks.
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