Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pens may finally have solved Osgood

By Mike Prisuta
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, May 31, 2008



PITTSBURGH - MAY 28: Goaltender Chris Osgood #30 of the Detroit Red Wings dives back to make a glove save on a shot from the Pittsburgh Penguins during game three of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on May 28, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 3-2 to set the series at 2-1 Red Wings. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


Upon reporting for work Friday at Mellon Arena, Chris Osgood disembarked the Detroit Red Wings' team bus and spent about five minutes signing autographs for fans.

Penguins fans, mostly.

He may no longer be impenetrable as far as the Stanley Cup final is concerned, but Osgood remains unflappable.

Still, the three goals the Penguins scored on him in Game 3 were significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which was they added up to just enough for the Penguins to secure a had-to-have-it, 3-2 victory.

Now, three games in, the Penguins have been frustrated by Osgood, and they have gotten to him in this series.

Although it's been more of the former and less of the latter, the Penguins may have solved Osgood -- and the defensive wall the Red Wings had been throwing up in front of him -- just in time.

In addition to the two goals from in close by Sidney Crosby and Adam Hall banking a puck off Osgood's backside, the Penguins had some incredible looks in Game 3 that they were unable to convert.

Evgeni Malkin fired wide on a backhand with Osgood down and out in the first period's final minute.

Marian Hossa missed wide with Osgood in a similar position 1.5 seconds before the break.

In the second period, Gary Roberts missed on a wraparound backhand.

In the third period, Hossa hit a post.

The Penguins fired 24 shots on net in Game 3 -- their highest total of the series.

But they also had 13 shots blocked and 15 that missed the target -- both also constituting series highs.

As the series progresses, the Penguins are succeeding in getting more pucks on net, which was their intention all along.

Could they also be coming to grips with the best method of actually getting pucks into the net?

Osgood is a relentless challenger of shooters, but on several occasions in Game 3, he appeared to struggle when moving laterally.

So, the question for the Penguins heading into Game 4 has become one involving quantity or quality.

Do they continue to fire away at every opportunity in search of rebounds and "dirty" goals, or do they try to take advantage of Osgood's aggressiveness or his relative post-to-post issues by making the extra pass?

The answer might be yes to both.

When playing five-on-five, getting pucks to the net is never a bad idea.

But when they're on the power play, the Penguins' ability to move the puck and create opportunities for accomplished finishers figures to eventually get to Osgood.

At least that's the way Sidney Crosby has it figured for a power-play unit that has allowed as many goals as it's scored (one each) in 11 mostly frustrating opportunities.

"I'm not concerned at all," Crosby said. "We've had some good chances. The puck hasn't gone in. We're doing the right things, and the work ethic is there. I'm a big believer, if you keep doing the right things, eventually it will turn around.

"We were able to win the last game, and hopefully, next game, that could be the difference."

The Pens' power play will click and contribute at some point.

If that happens tonight, it's a whole new series.


Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at mprisuta@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

Some Steelers tickets will be for sale June 21

Thursday, May 29, 2008
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette





Some Steelers tickets will be for sale June 21. The Steelers will sell a limited number of individual game tickets through Ticketmaster beginning at noon June 21. Tickets can be purchased through ticketmaster.com or by calling 412-323-1919. They will not be sold at outlets.
First published on May 29, 2008 at 12:35 am

Fleury key to the series

Another stellar performance from Marc-Andre Fleury is what Penguins need the most

By Ron Cook
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Saturday, May 31, 2008



Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, left, talks with coach Gilles Meloche during the hockey team's practice yesterday at the Mellon Arena in preparation for tonight's game.


Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik wanted to make a point. Not of the concussive variety like those he made against the Detroit Red Wings the other night during that memorable seek-and-destroy shift. An instructive point.

"How old is he now?" Orpik asked of his goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury.

Twenty-three, he was told.

"That gets overlooked sometimes," Orpik said. "He broke into the league when he was 18. Most goalies don't break in until they're his age now. That's why, to me, it's amazing what he's doing. All of us know we wouldn't be here without him."

The Stanley Cup final.

That's an awfully long way to carry a team for a guy who looks like he's still 12.

"Twelve? That might be pushing it," Orpik said, grinning.

Fleury might have a baby face, but he was all man against the Red Wings in Game 3 Wednesday night. He was much better than Detroit veteran goalie Chris Osgood, a big reason the Penguins were 3-2 winners at Mellon Arena in a game they desperately needed. Osgood had outplayed Fleury in Games 1 and 2 in Detroit by pitching a couple of shutouts, although the Penguins -- to a man -- will tell you they made it easy for him by not getting the puck on his net.

"Goaltending is everything," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said before the series.

So it is.

It's the one reason to think the Penguins still have a chance -- maybe not a great chance, but a chance nonetheless -- of stealing the Cup from a powerful Detroit team that is their equal or better in every way but one.

Fleury is better than Osgood.

It was nice to see Fleury prove it in Game 3 after he wasn't close to his best in the two losses in Detroit. Penguins coach Michel Therrien suggested nerves might have been the problem. Fleury is young, and this is his first time in the final. His problems started when he tripped and fell coming on to the Joe Louis Arena ice for Game 1 and continued that night when he let in a wraparound goal by Mikael Samuelsson and created a second for Samuelsson with a failed clearing attempt. He was even worse in Game 2 when he let a couple of goals trickle through him.

"It was a little tough," Fleury said, "because it seemed like I allowed more goals in those two games than I did through the whole playoffs."

Fleury fished seven pucks out of his net in Detroit. He had given up just 24 goals in the Penguins' 14 games through the first three rounds.

But Fleury didn't let the Red Wings get in his head. That might have happened earlier in his career, but he's so much more mature now, so much stronger mentally. Coming home helped, too. Fleury has won his past 19 starts at Mellon Arena.

"I like his composure," Therrien said.

Fleury has to be a rock because the Penguins aren't going to score a lot of goals against Detroit. That's more because of the Red Wings' stifling defensive system than Osgood. Even in the Game 3 win, the Penguins managed just 24 shots.

"I know I didn't have good games in Detroit, and it was frustrating because we hadn't lost two games in a row in the playoffs," Fleury said. "But I still was confident if I could make some key saves and give our guys a chance that we would get a couple of goals."

That's exactly how it turned out. The start of Game 3 went much like the first two games with the Red Wings getting nine of the first 10 shots. But Fleury stoned them, making huge early saves on Pavel Datsyuk and Brad Stuart. If either shot had been a goal, the Penguins almost certainly would have lost and would be facing elimination in Game 4 tonight.

"He made fabulous saves when the game was tied," Therrien said.

Fleury was just as good after Sidney Crosby scored twice to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead and Adam Hall bounced one in off Osgood to nudge the gap to 3-1. He made two great saves on Jiri Hudler -- the second on a deflection -- and also was a little lucky when a shot by Tomas Holmstrom off a rebound hit his right post in the third period.

"Oh, [expletive]!" Fleury said when asked what he thought when he saw that loose puck on Holmstrom's stick and his net virtually open.

What a beautiful sound that shot made when it tinged off the iron.

"I'll take it because we hit a couple of posts at the other end," Fleury said.

The only goals the Red Wings scored came when Johan Franzen beat defenseman Rob Scuderi with an inside move to get an unimpeded shot and when a slapper by Samuelsson deflected off Orpik's stick.

In other words, Fleury was terrific.

You know, like he has to be tonight for the Penguins to tie the series at 2-2.

"I try not to put too much pressure on myself," Fleury said. "I don't think I have to be perfect. I know we're going to get some goals. Even if we don't get a lot, all I can do is try my best."

Fleury's best may or may not be good enough for the Penguins to win the Cup.

Only this we know for sure:

Anything less than Fleury's best and the Penguins have no chance.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 31, 2008 at 12:00 am

A one-man hockey museum

His collection includes 200 game-worn jerseys, pucks, sticks and banners

Saturday, May 31, 2008
By Dan Majors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette
Tim Kelley, of Coraopolis, has been collecting Penguins memorabilia since 1995.


Hockey wasn't always the most important thing in the universe. Why, there was a time, long ago, when the winners of the Stanley Cup weren't automatically invited to the White House to meet the president.

"The first President Bush, he really didn't know anything about hockey, and I don't think they had any intention of inviting the Penguins," said Timothy Kelley of Findlay, who was working in federal law enforcement in Washington, D.C.

"A friend of mine, who was a Secret Service agent, was a Penguins fan like me, and we were badgering the visitors' office to invite them," he said. "One day, I was there, and he actually dialed the Penguins' [front office] number and handed the phone to one of the secretaries."

Next thing he knew, there were Penguins on the White House lawn.

Team Captain Mario Lemieux presented Mr. Bush with a miniature of the cup and a jersey. Mr. Bush shook the young man's hand and said, "And you are?"

It was a magic moment.

Today, Mr. Kelley, 46, works for the Department of Homeland Security. And he has a few Penguins souvenirs of his own:

About 200 game-worn jerseys, including 1991 Stanley Cup Final sweaters bearing the names Lemieux, Jagr, Francis, Recchi and Pietrangelo. There's also the jersey Petr Nedved was wearing when he scored the game-winning goal in the fourth overtime in the 1996 playoffs and the jersey Darius Kasparaitis was sporting when he knocked Eric Lindros out in '97.

They share closet space in his home with numerous programs, posters, pucks, sticks and banners. There's the cap Jaromir Jagr was wearing in the Pens' locker room when they won the first cup and the black helmet Mr. Lemieux wore during his first seven seasons, from his first game until they won their first cup.

He even has the home jersey Sidney Crosby wore in his rookie year, when he first had the "A" for "alternate captain" sewn onto it.

"I guess it all harkens back to the Mean Joe Greene Coca-Cola commercial," Mr. Kelley said. "I didn't know this hobby even existed. It's just that I was a Penguin fan for so long, through all the hard times. And then when they won the cup, it meant so much to me. And I remember thinking, 'Wow, I'd love to have the jersey Mario was wearing that night.' But I had no idea you could get those things."

Well, some people can. You have to be plugged into the world of collectibles. And you have to be willing to spend some money.

But once you have it, you have a piece of Penguins history.

"Players go through a couple sets of jerseys a year," Mr. Kelley said. "Hockey jerseys get worn out. They take a lot of abuse. Watch how hard they play. Hitting, falling to the ice, crashing into the boards, getting slashed, fighting, yanking on the collars. Blood and stick marks."

Most of Mr. Kelley's jerseys have been acquired through auctions or Internet sales involving reputable, authorized dealers. But some of his stuff has come from friends who know of his passion.

"I had a friend who worked the visitors' locker room for the Minnesota North Stars," he said. "So when the Penguins won the cup there, he managed to procure me a few items. He actually got two champagne bottles, and he got them autographed by a couple of the players. One of them is autographed by Tom Barrasso, and he actually noted Stanley Cup '91 on it. The other one is Jaromir Jagr and Paul Coffey."

Another friend, who used to work for the city, hooked him up with one of the Penguins banners that the city hung from street posts. But it's the jerseys that are most special to him.

The first piece of his collection was a Ron Francis 1995-96 Pens regular-season white jersey. But he no longer has it.

"His Stanley Cup jersey became available," Mr. Kelley said, "so I sold it and put the money I made toward the more expensive Stanley Cup jersey. ... It's like giving up your skinny first girlfriend for your Playboy model second girlfriend."

The older goods were harder to obtain. Much of it was lost as teams didn't appreciate the value of sweaty pieces of clothing.

All of Mr. Kelley's paraphernalia is Penguins-related, and he doesn't wear anything from his collection. He has other store-bought Pens jerseys for that.

And he isn't big on autographs. Most collectors, he said, forego the scribbling of athletes, preferring to have the jerseys in the condition in which they were worn.

The prize of his collection is Mr. Lemieux's black Stanley Cup jersey from Game 4 in 1991. It's the only jersey he has framed.

His dream piece, he said, would be the home black jersey Mr. Crosby wore in the Game 3 victory Wednesday night, when he scored two goals. Of course, that isn't on the market yet.

Asked what he will do with his collection, Mr. Kelley -- who has no wife or children -- said he doesn't know.

"If I sold it all, I wouldn't have a house payment or a car payment. But it isn't about money, it really isn't," he said. "It's about the Penguins. That's my team. I live and die with them."

The collection says a lot about the Penguins. And the fact that Mr. Kelley has been able to acquire so much of it also is telling.

"As I got into the hobby, I realized the Penguins never really had a sense of their own history, unlike the Steelers and the Pirates," he said. "They had so many financial problems, ownership problems, bankruptcy. They never really took care of their own history."

Fortunately, someone out in Findlay has been doing it for them.

Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.
First published on May 31, 2008 at 12:00 am

Friday, May 30, 2008

Roberts, Pens dig deep

By Joe Starkey
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, May 30, 2008



The Penguins' Gary Roberts, left, celebrates a goal by teammate Adam Hall (not shown) in front of Detroit Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja, lower right, of Sweden, during the third period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at Mellon Arean. The Penguins defeated the Red Wings, 3-2, with Detroit leading the best-of-seven series, 2-1.
Frank Gunn/For the Associated Press



Dirty Gary, huh? It's awesome. I love when the crowd goes, "Gaaary!" He's a legend in here. ... You look at him after a goal -- during the celebration -- you look in his eyes, and you're kind of scared, like, 'Oh my God, that guy's intense.' And it's great. -- Maxime Talbot

Desperation has to be the most overused word in hockey, but if you didn't see it in the Penguins' eyes Wednesday night -- especially in the maniacal glare of 42-year-old winger Gary Roberts -- you weren't watching closely enough.

The "A" on that guy's jersey stands for "angry."

We could sit here all day and talk about puck support, organized breakouts and clogging the neutral zone. We could discuss the finer points of systematic hockey.

But what does any of that have to do with a loose puck behind the net and four beating hearts bearing down on it?

In many ways, this game boils down to a series of small skirmishes all over the ice -- the kind the Penguins lost too often in Games 1 and 2.

Maybe that's why the coaching staff gathered the players for a little video session just before Game 3.

"Keeping pucks in, getting pucks out, we weren't doing enough of it," defenseman Ryan Whitney said.

So, the video session consisted of coach Michel Therrien highlighting some of those lost battles?

"Yeah, that's pretty much it," Whitney said, "without the expletives."

As well and as hard as they played, the Penguins will have to turn it up yet another notch for Game 4 on Saturday.

Ask people who know, and they'll tell you that winning a Stanley Cup can require a team to find a level it didn't even know it had.

"We can play better," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

No doubt, the Penguins sold out to save their playoff lives the other night. Players stepped out of their comfort zones. That might have meant gifted offensive players putting their skills to use in the less glamorous areas of the rink -- like the corners -- or defenseman Sergei Gonchar playing one of the more physical games of his Penguins career.

Pure heart led to the winning goal. It began with winger Tyler Kennedy clearing the zone as he was flattened by a crushing hit. Talbot gained possession at center ice and dumped the puck into the corner, where Roberts unloaded on defenseman Andreas Lilja.

That created a free puck among four players -- Roberts, Lilja, Detroit winger Jiri Hudler and Talbot. No system was going to help anyone here. Talbot prevailed, which led to Adam Hall's goal.

Two other examples:

• On the Penguins' second goal, the puck squirted from the slot to the side boards during a power play. To retrieve it, Evgeni Malkin had to break into a sprint and take a hit from Kris Draper before tipping it back to Gonchar. Seconds later, Sidney Crosby scored. It seems to have sunk in with Malkin that even if he isn't working his offensive magic on a given night, he can have a huge impact by making plays like that. He was a horse all night.

• A critical shift occurred after Detroit cut the deficit to 2-1. Therrien reunited his big guns -- Crosby, Marian Hossa, Malkin -- and they kept the puck in Detroit's zone for 46 seconds, stealing back momentum.

Roberts sparked an energy swing in the second period when he raced behind the net and nearly hammered goalie Chris Osgood (who, incredibly, did not fall down). Jordan Staal, Jarkko Ruutu and Roberts then kept the puck in Detroit's zone for 34 seconds.

The most amazing statistic from the game was this: Roberts played only 8 minutes, 45 seconds.

"You'd think he played 20 with the impact he had," Whitney said.

Wait till you see the guy on two days' rest.


Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at jstarkey@tribweb.com.

Crosby mirrors idol Yzerman

By Rob Rossi
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, May 30, 2008



Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby celebrates his second-period goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final against the Detroit Red Wings at Mellon Arena, May 28, 2008.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


Marian Hossa sat on a bench inside Boston University's Agganis Arena on a crisp morning in late February, less than 24 hours removed from a trade to the Penguins that rocked his world, and an unfamiliar team trainer handed him a cell phone.

"He said, 'This text message is for you,'" Hossa recalled. "It said: 'Welcome. Hope we can play together soon. - Sid.'

"I felt like part of the team right away."

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has a way of doing that for teammates. From an incoming star such as Hossa to a training-camp invitee like forward Adam Hall, Crosby helps out where he can to make everybody feel they are his equals.

They are not, of course. But Crosby knows no other way to lead.

His acknowledged hockey idol, Steve Yzerman, was equally unknowing as longtime captain of the Detroit Red Wings.

Now a vice president with Detroit, Yzerman is well aware this Stanley Cup is an introduction for many casual sports fans to Crosby - the NHL's one-man marketing machine.

Yzerman's introduction to Crosby was brief.

"I've only shaken hands with Sidney on the ice one time," Yzerman said. "He's handled himself really well. Mostly, what I'm impressed with is that he's all about hockey."

Crosby's Yzerman-like performance Wednesday in Game 3 - he scored twice in the Penguins' 3-2 victory at Mellon Arena - suggests a proper sit-down between the two is unlikely for a few more days, maybe longer.

Detroit leads the best-of-seven series, 2-1. But Game 4 is Saturday at Mellon Arena, where the Penguins have won 17 consecutive games.

As was the case for Yzerman during his 19 seasons as Red Wings captain, Crosby is focused only on that next hockey game.

That steely focus is one of Crosby's many attributes Yzerman finds appealing.

"I've watched how he conducts himself, and I like the way he plays," said Yzerman, who retired in 2006 as the sixth-leading scorer in NHL history and a three-time Cup champion. "He's an extremely talented kid, but he competes hard.

"I've been very impressed watching from afar."



Sidney Crosby's acknowledged hockey idol, Steve Yzerman (holding the Stanley Cup in 2002), was the longtime captain of the Detroit Red Wings before retiring in 2006. He and Crosby have a similar leadership style.
AP photo


Yzerman impressed Crosby when he watched from afar in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, as a pre-teen hockey prodigy with dreams of one day winning the Cup for which the Red Wings were a consistent contender in the late 1990s.

"He brought everything," Crosby said of Yzerman. "He was a guy who stood out as a two-way player. I remember seeing him out there in the last minute of games blocking shots. I was just drawn to him because he was so complete, and that's the type of player I wanted to be.

"And the way he handled himself off the ice - he was himself."

Defenseman Ryan Whitney, one of Crosby's closest friends on the Penguins, said that description also applies to Crosby.

"It's funny, you get these requests from buddies asking for Sidney Crosby's autograph, and it reminds you how much of a superstar he really is," Whitney said. "But he comes to the rink every day and we (joke around), and you forget how good he really is."

A quick reminder:

As a 14-year-old, Crosby was so advanced that NHL all-time leading scorer Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky did not dismiss suggestions he might be "The Next One."

As an 18-year-old, Crosby was so impressive during his first training camp with the Penguins that Mario Lemieux said Crosby could break every one of his franchise records.

As a 20-year-old, Crosby is tied for the individual playoff scoring lead with 23 points, and the Penguins are three wins from the Cup in his first season as the youngest captain in league history.

"You look at the guy, and it's, like, amazing - what he does," forward Max Talbot said. "He's been the center of attention since he was (14). Yes, the kid has got skill, but that's not what impresses me the most. At practice he is always 110 percent. He's got that fire in his eyes. He's all about the game, and he wants to win.

"He's one of the best players in the game. But it's not about the skill that he brings. It's about everything else. He's the best."

Yzerman was always among the most skilled players, but his fierce competitiveness set him apart as a definitive captain.

Understanding the complex dynamic of a dressing room was paramount to Yzerman's leadership style.

"I've had a lot of people ask about that," Yzerman said. "I always laugh because I never felt like, 'This is my team.' I always thought I was just one of the guys. You just can't take yourself too seriously.

"All I tried to do as a captain was compete hard, do the right thing and help out where I could."

Rob Rossi can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or 412-380-5635.

Orpik's stock soars fast

Friday, May 30, 2008
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
The Penguins' Brooks Orpik (44) sends the Red Wings' Valtteri Filppula to the ice Wednesday at Mellon Arena.


The morning after the shift of his life, after the Detroit Red Wings discovered that trying to pull a postseason victory out of Mellon Arena can be like beating your head against Brooks Orpik, the Penguins' defenseman was busy deflecting credit and struggling to correctly slot in the memory his potentially series-changing cadenza.

Asked yesterday to gauge the reaction of his teammates when he skated to the bench after piggy-backing four booming checks along the corner boards that splattered Red Wings on the ice like cephalopods, Orpik said, "not too much really; it was such a crucial time in the game. There was about five minutes left."

Actually, there were more than 10, but the thunder in Orpik's body blows roared with a kind of finality.

"Sometimes, there isn't as much separation as people think," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock about the degree of separation between a playoff win and a playoff loss. "That game was available until the end."

The Red Wings surely could have erased a 3-1 deficit after Orpik's rampage, and, in fact, sliced it in half just three minutes later, but few in the building who weren't wearing red hats could anticipate that. Orpik simply had put the building on his shoulders, lifted his team just as assuredly, and his memorable solo of old-time hockey percussion changed the working suffix for hope around here from less to full.

"That might have been the loudest moments I've ever heard with the crowd here," said Penguins forward Max Talbot, who assisted on the Adam Hall goal that made the score 3-1. "Just hearing the crowd like that, it just gives us such momentum. You want to go on the ice and do the same thing."

We often write unavoidably in this sport of winning goals and game-changing saves, but if a defenseman can win a hockey game with a single skeleton-rattling shift, Orpik did that in Game 3.

"It was just one shift," Orpik said, articulating the way a coach would.

Several others, he felt, were more causative to the outcome, and, perhaps, that's right. But, for Orpik personally, that was perhaps a million-dollar shift. Chances are roughly 100 percent that Orpik's representation will have that shift on a continuous video loop the moment unrestricted free agents go to market, and chances are roughly as good that some general managers are going to look at Daniel Cleary and Pavel Datsyuk crumbling to the pond at the will of No. 44 in black and think, "Yes, yes, yes! We've got to overpay this guy by at least $1 million."

Such is the double-edge dagger of the salary-cap structured collective bargaining agreement. Had the Penguins been dismissed in the first round of playoffs this spring, unrestricted labor like Orpik and Ryan Malone might well have been procured with something resembling their market value. But, as the club was extending its season toward June, those players effectively made millions, likely payable from a bank in another major North American city.

For the moment, though, Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final goes on stage tomorrow night in the world's most ancient NHL arena and having Orpik on your side for such an event is a growing advantage.

"I know a lot's been said about their experience," Orpik said of the Red Wings, still with a firm 2-1 grip on this series. "But that means they do have a lot of older guys. The more you can pound on them, the better it's going to be for us as the series gets longer."

Over the course of 17 playoff games, no Penguin has delivered the number of hits nor blocked shots as this 28-year-old defenseman from that hockey hotbed of stay-at-home defensemen, San Francisco, Calif. Had it not been for Montreal's Michael Komisarek, Orpik would have led the entire NHL in hits by a defenseman over an entire hockey winter in which he was a career-best plus 12.

"You don't want to be running out of position," Orpik said of his desire to deliver the big checks. "In our system, most of the hitting is done in our zone. We don't take a lot of chances at the other end. You pretty much let [the opportunities] come to you, and [in Game 3], the opportunity was there, and when it comes, you really want to make them pay."

Oh yeah somebody's gonna pay. Over most of the next week he hopes. And particularly over the summer.

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.
First published on May 30, 2008 at 12:00 am

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Crosby's greatness revealed as Penguins recapture their swagger

By Michael Farber
SI.com
May 29, 2008



The first of Sidney Crosby's two goals ended the Penguins' scoreless streak at 137 minutes, 25 seconds.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images


PITTSBURGH -- Maybe 20-year-old Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was simply waiting until the Stanley Cup finals jumped from cable to an over-the-air network to play a game for the ages Wednesday, one of the matches that will be lauded today and savored when his fabulous career is over.

With the Penguins' season in the balance -- and with a potentially riveting final about to become a colossal dud -- NBC's favorite hockey player decided this was not going to be May sweeps week in Detroit.

If the measure of a star is the ability to play as big as the game, Crosby's greatness was revealed in a way that not even his Hart Trophy season ever could. In a showcase Game 3 that ranks in excitement and physicality and sheer quality with any match in the past five finals, the NHL's youngest captain scored the first two goals in the 3-2 back-and-forth win for a team that a) hallelujah, scored a goal and b) regained the swagger that it had while bulling its way to the finals. On the day that the NHL presented the Mark Messier Leadership award to Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin in the afternoon -- and when the Versus network ceded its place to The Peacock for the rest of the series -- Crosby upped the ante at night with his first goals since Mother's Day, in his first home game of his Stanley Cup finals life.



PITTSBURGH - MAY 28: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Jarkko Ruutu #37 after scoring a first period goal past goaltender Chris Osgood #30 of the Detroit Red Wings during game three of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on May 28, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 3-2 to set the series at 2-1 Red Wings. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


Crosby had been preternaturally quiet before the game. No speeches. Nothing. Pierre Larouche, an adviser to Penguins chairman Mario Lemieux, looked at Crosby and noticed no trace of the nerves that he had detected before the first two games. Up in Lemieux's box, Larouche turned to Troy Crosby, Sidney's father, and said, "The kid's going to have a big game tonight." Crosby didn't exactly have small games in Detroit. Indeed he had given worthy efforts in the shutout losses while most of the rest of the Penguins were taking tours of the Ford plant or dining in Greektown or whatever it was that had occupied their time. But in a series that was on the brink of being depressingly short, effort must yield production. Crosby, who never has scored more than 39 goals during his three-year NHL career, needed a payoff given the dire circumstances and the parched Penguins' goal drought.

With the Pittsburgh streak of futility nearing seven periods -- the Penguins had been outshot 9-1 midway through the first period -- coach Michel Therrien kicked off the anticipated Pittsburgh push when he threw Evgeni Malkin on a line with Crosby and Marian Hossa. The sustained pressure through a few shifts took its toll on the previously impervious Red Wings. Defenseman Brad Stuart, who with partner Niklas Kronwall had seen considerable more of Malkin's line in the matches in Detroit, passed the puck from behind his net and directly into Henrik Zetterberg's skates, one of those tape-to-laces passes. Crosby gathered the loose puck and bore down on Chris Osgood, neatly sliding the puck in with 2:35 left in the first period to put a Chrysler-size dent in the corona of invincibility that had encircled the goalie.



Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby, right, checks Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski into the boards during the first period in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup hockey finals in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, May 28, 2008.
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


Then, two and a half minutes into the second period, Crosby tapped in a power-play gimme to the left of Osgood off a soft, short pass from Hossa after Stuart, a veritable fifth column for Detroit for much of the game, failed to clear the puck.

"[Crosby] really brought it," said Pittsburgh defenseman Ray Whitney. "That's a leader, really stepping up and leading us. He proved tonight why he's the best player in the game, in our minds. He seemed real focused before the game. He always does. Tonight might have been a little different. He might have said this team's going on my shoulders tonight. I'm the captain and we're back home and it's my first home Stanley Cup final game. I hope one of many."

"You need a guy like that not only to do the right things and say the right things but when the game is big like that, to be a big-time player," defenseman Hall Gill said. "I've seen it on more than a handful of occasions when he takes a game over by himself. Sometimes it's not highlight goals. Sometimes it's a back check. He just does what it takes to win."

Crosby was his usual diffident self after the game, belying no emotion. When asked if he thought the performance was the highlight of his career, he said he didn't know. He talked about his linemates moving their feet. He allowed that the puck had ended up on his stick. He brought an A-game, but his postgame comments were as dull as C-span. But who cares? More than two decades after NBC had the Cosby Show, finally it had the Crosby Show. This one also was a winner.

Pens' arrival better late than never

By Mike Prisuta
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, May 29, 2008



Penguins center Evgeni Malkin celebrates Sidney Crosby's second-period goal against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final at Mellon Arena, May 28, 2008. The Penguins won, 3-2, and cut Detroit's series lead to 2-1.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


Now, they can breathe.

Now, it's a series.

For more than 10 minutes Wednesday night, the Penguins seemed intent on turning the Stanley Cup final into a self-obstructing prophecy.

Hours after coach Michel Therrien had once again raised the subject of obstruction following the morning skate, the Penguins found themselves tied with the Detroit Red Wings, 0-0, but being outshot, 9-1, more than halfway through the first period of what for the Penguins was a pivotal Game 3.

The Pens' profound problems in generating any offense in this series already had been personified at that point by Sidney Crosby, who for some reason opted to attempt a pass rather than let one rip from the top of the face-off circle to goaltender Chris Osgood's right halfway through the period.

Not long after that, the light finally went on.

All it took was a mistake by the Red Wings, an unforced error on a Brad Stuart-to-Henrik Zetterberg breakout pass.

The puck hit Zetterberg's skate and then Stuart's skate after Marian Hossa had shot it.

Crosby collected it and did the rest, and suddenly the Penguins were the Penguins again.



Penguins center Evgeni Malkin checks the Detroit Red Wings' Brad Stuart in the first period of Game 3 in the Stanley Cup final at Mellon Arena, May 28, 2008. The Penguins won, 3-2, and cut Detroit's series lead to 2-1.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


Therrien, when he wasn't discussing obstruction, confirmed they'd been less than that in explaining why he replaced rookie defenseman Kris Letang with veteran Darryl Sydor.

The Penguins, Therrien said, could use Sydor's experience "on the ice and on the bench."

Sydor wasn't on the ice when Crosby finally got a puck past Osgood at 17:25 of the first, but the bench was just dandy thereafter.

And on the ice, the Penguins were something to behold.

They hit, skated, shot, cycled, trapped and willed their way past the Red Wings, who, as it turns out, are not the Red Army, 3-2.

The Penguins played the type of hockey that had them deserving of victory in about 95 percent of their wins, in Therrien's estimation, prior to the Cup final.

In the process, they proved to themselves, and perhaps to the Red Wings, that they belong in this series.

There was legitimate doubt heading into Game 3 based on how docile the Penguins had been in Detroit, relatively speaking.



The Penguins' Gary Roberts checks Detroit's Brian Rafalski into the boards during the second period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night at Mellon Arena. The Penguins won, 3-2, and cut Detroit's series lead to 2-1.
Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review


But that doubt was body-checked into oblivion in a much-needed Mellon Arena confirmation that included:

• Gary Roberts playing with centers Jordan Staal, Adam Hall, Crosby and Malkin, and dominating whenever called upon.

• Defensemen such as Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney and even Hal Gill stepping up into the rush and forcing the offensive issue.

• Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury remaining upright upon taking the ice and standing tall long enough to make the timely saves that were necessary until the Penguins found their legs.

• Defenseman Brooks Orpik crushing everything in red and white that came near him.



Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on Detroit's Jiri Hudler during the second period of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night at Mellon Arena. The Penguins won, 3-2, and cut Detroit's series lead to 2-1.
Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review


The stat of the night?

The Penguins knocked Tomas Holmstrom's helmet off three times in the first two periods.

That's playoff hockey.

By finally playing some the Penguins finally got to Osgood.

If they can get him moving side to side a little more often or become a little more accurate with the shots they're suddenly willing to take, they'll have a chance to light him up Saturday night.

For now, the chance to even the series in Game 4 is more than enough.


Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at mprisuta@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

Malkin regains old form in Game 3

Thursday, May 29, 2008
By Shelly Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



PITTSBURGH - MAY 28: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoots the puck as Tomas Holmstrom #96 of the Detroit Red Wings skates in during game three of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on May 28, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After a night in which he rediscovered the game that had somehow disappeared, Evgeni Malkin found himself in the last place a player wants to be late in a close game.

The Penguins center sat in the penalty box with his team clinging to a one-goal lead after being whistled for hooking Detroit's Niklas Kronwall -- an offensive-zone penalty, at that -- at a time when being short-handed could have been disastrous as the team tried to scramble back into contention in the Stanley Cup final.

"It was kind of a questionable penalty, but thanks to all my teammates who stood up at the end of the game," Malkin said through Russian interpreter George Birman. "It's a bad penalty to take."

The Penguins killed the power play and held on for a 3-2 win at Mellon Arena to cut their deficit in the series to 2-1.

Malkin didn't have any points in Game 3, but he played in a way that likely drew the attention of anyone watching.

Reunited with his longtime linemates Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone after Max Talbot had replaced Malone in Game 2, Malkin dived for pucks, got off three shots, threw his body around and worked to set up scoring chances.

"He played well," coach Michel Therrien said. "He got some chances, got some quality shots. He worked really well both sides of the ice, both sides of the puck. If 'Geno' keeps playing like this, you know eventually he's going to get rewarded."

Already, Malkin, 21, is in a better place.

One of three finalists for the Hart Trophy as MVP of the NHL and the runner-up for the Art Ross Trophy that goes to the league scoring champion, he played so well early in the postseason that there was talk of him equaling teammate Sidney Crosby's status as the top player in the world.

That subsided in recent games, but last night he played the style that lifted him into the scoring race while Crosby missed 28 games with a high ankle sprain the second half of the season.

"I feel much better," Malkin said. "I caught that [Stanley Cup] final taste. So every game I feel better and better."

It must have tasted good.



PITTSBURGH - MAY 28: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates with the puck against Nicklas Lidstrom #5 of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period of game three of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on May 28, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Malkin had eight goals and 17 points in the first 10 games of the playoffs, but since had just a goal and two points in six games going into last night. He had just one shot in the first two games of the series.

After he looked unusually sluggish in Game 1, Malkin was summoned for a talk with Therrien. It took a few days for it to sink in.

"The first two games weren't the best games our team played, and especially me," Malkin said. "I didn't play good games, but my coaches helped me with what I should do and I kind of went over what I have to do by myself, so I had a good game."

He got help in other places, too.

His Russian agent and friend, Genady Ushakov -- a rough translation since neither Malkin nor Birman were sure of the spelling -- is in town.

"It's a big help when he's here," Malkin said. "This is the fourth time this year. Sometimes he tells me what I have to do from a different viewpoint."

He's also getting a lot of long-distance love from his parents.

"I feel their support," Malkin said. "I talk to them all the time. They watch all the games."

There also was the home crowd.

Malkin always is the last player off the ice at the end of the pregame warm-up. In a superstitious ritual that started early in the regular season and plays out every game, he sent a soft shot at Penguins trainer Chris Stewart, who stopped it with his feet. Like they always do, the two then headed down the runway to the dressing room.

This time, as it played out, a nearly full complement of fans already in the stands gave Malkin a loud cheer of encouragement.

In the first period, Malkin was shown on the scoreboard screen, and that raised another ovation.

"It's kind of hard to miss when 17,000 are cheering and 17,000 fans go crazy," he said. "It's a big help."

And when Malkin plays the way he did in Game 3, it's hard to miss him.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 29, 2008 at 12:58 am

Penguins take some air out of hot Wings

"We're a young team. It's a process with those guys."

Thursday, May 29, 2008
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
The Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on the Red Wings' Tomas Holmstrom in the first period.


Turns out the Detroit Red Wings might not be a team for the ages. Might not be just about flawless in every phase of the game. Might not be coached by the greatest tactician and motivator in NHL history.

It probably came as a surprise to some, particularly those in Michigan, but the Red Wings will not win the Stanley Cup in four games. In fact, they might not win it at all.

Winning in a sweep became an impossibility last night when the Penguins won the third game of the best-of-seven series, 3-2, at Mellon Arena.

Detroit remains a solid favorite to win the Cup after thoroughly dominating the Penguins in the first two games. But the Penguins had to be heartened by their play. Although they trail in the series, 2-1, and the home-ice advantage remains with Detroit, they can look to the words of the man who coached Pittsburgh to its first Stanley Cup title, the late Badger Bob Johnson, for inspiration.

When the Penguins won the Cup in 1991, they trailed in every one of their four series -- once 3-2 and once 2-0. Being down never phased the legendary, optimistic Johnson and he wouldn't let it affect his players. "You can lose three games and still win the Cup," he was fond of saying when his team was down.

It's a frame of reference worth remembering.

What happened last night was that the heretofore superlative Red Wings proved to be mortal and Sidney Crosby did not.

It would be nice to report that Crosby and his teammates responded to a return to their home ice and picked up where they had left off last time, a 6-0 whipping of the Philadelphia Flyers that clinched the Eastern Conference championship. But that was not the case.

Through much of the first period, the Penguins looked pretty much like the helpless outfit that couldn't score a goal in two games in Detroit. The roar of another sellout crowd was lost as they looked every bit as perplexed by the Red Wings' play on the ice at Mellon as they had been at Joe Louis Arena.

The game was 15 minutes old before the Penguins got their second shot on goal. They crisply advanced the puck across their own blue line more often, but not by much. It looked like the same old story of the Penguins being badly outclassed by the Red Wings.

"The first 10 minutes we were on our heels," admitted coach Michel Therrien. "We're a young team. It's a process with those guys. We tried to change the momentum. We tried to bring more speed to the ice. For the last 10 minutes of the first period, we really took over. We took the momentum to the second period."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock saw it pretty much the same way, saying, "After they scored, they controlled the next 20 minutes of the game."



Peter Diana
The Penguins' Adam Hall (right with mouth open) is mobbed by teammates after scoring in the third period.


Crosby rose to the challenge of rallying his team. He scored the first goal of the game at 17:25 of the first period and put the Penguins ahead, 2-0, at 2:34 of the second period.

Babcock admitted he saw a different Penguins team in the third game.

"They got to the puck a little quicker," he said. "They scored first, which helped them. I thought Crosby and [Marian] Hossa were better. They had more energy, they controlled more plays.

"Give them credit. They found a way to win the game. They had some quality scoring chances."

Adam Hall added an insurance goal in the third period and Therrien couldn't have been happier for the journeyman forward.

"Adam Hall had the most important goal of his career," he said.

The Penguins needed a boost from their secondary players and they got it from Hall and Gary Roberts, who was on the ice for the final goal.

Also reassuring for the Penguins was the play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

"He made some key saves," said Therrien. "I like his composure. I'm really pleased for him."

At the other end of the ice, the Penguins can take hope from the fact that Detroit goalie Chris Osgood ceased to have the look of a Ken Dryden or a Terry Sawchuk.

As well as the Red Wings played in the first two games, recent history tells us they maybe aren't quite that good. They lost twice in their opening-round series against Nashville, in the third and fourth games, and twice in the conference final to Dallas in the fourth and fifth games.

They are good, very good and possibly too good for the Penguins. But they are no lock to win this Cup. The Penguins showed last night they can play with the Red Wings. A series that once threatened to be over in a hurry has the look of one that will be around for a while.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 29, 2008 at 12:49 am

Crosby rises to occasion when team, NHL need it most

Thursday, May 29, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Sidney Crosby celebrates his first period goal.


This was exactly what the Penguins had in mind when the most significant pingpong ball in NHL history bounced their way back in the summer of 2005: Sidney Crosby would grow up in front of our eyes and become a hero in a Stanley Cup playoff game.

That vision coincided perfectly with one shared by league officials after that same pingpong ball -- and the right to draft Crosby No. 1 -- went Pittsburgh's way instead of Anaheim's. Crosby would become the NHL's most popular ambassador at a silly young age and breathe much-needed life into the sport on its grandest stage.

So it went last night at throbbing Mellon Arena.

It was hard to say who was happiest after the Penguins' 3-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3. (I'm excluding the delirious crowd of 17,132, which was treated to a 17th consecutive win on the Lower Hill slab of ice). Was it the Penguins, who needed to show they at least could be competitive with the powerful Red Wings? Or was it the NHL officials, who practically could hear television sets being turned off across North America when Detroit won Games 1 and 2, 4-0 and 3-0, with methodical and even boring ease?

I can't speak for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who was, presumably, off toasting all things Crosby into the early Pittsburgh morning. But I can tell you what the Penguins were thinking after Crosby's two goals led to the franchise's first Cup final win since 1992, when Crosby was 4.

"I love the guy," winger Max Talbot gushed. "I'm older than him and I look up to him. What a true leader. The rest of us have no choice but to follow."

Call Crosby what you like -- Sid the Kid, The Captain, The Face of the NHL -- but know this about him: He picked up the Penguins and the league last night, carried them on his back and still found the strength and energy to turn in a remarkable performance.

It almost seemed as if it was supposed to happen that way. Evgeni Malkin could have been the star, but he wasn't. Or Marian Hossa. Or Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg or Chris Osgood.

But, no, it was Crosby.

Just following the script, eh?

"There's no doubt that you're looking for your best player to bring an A-game," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "Certainly, Sid did that tonight."

Earlier in the day, Crosby talked of the importance of scoring the first goal. "I'm not going to lie. The first one would feel nice."

As it turned out, it felt better than Crosby ever imagined.

"Finally!" he said, describing the thought that went through his mind after he got that goal late in the first period.

Crosby's body language said so much more.

"You could just see his intensity and his passion," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "You don't see him fist-pumping like that very often. He knew what this game meant to us."



PITTSBURGH - MAY 28: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores a second period goal past goaltender Chris Osgood #30 of the Detroit Red Wings during game three of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on May 28, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 3-2 to set the series at 2-1 Red Wings. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)


When you go as long as the Penguins did without a goal -- 120 frightful minutes in those two futile games at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena and more than 17 tense minutes last night -- you start to wonder if you're ever going to score, especially against the stifling defense that the Red Wings play. But there was Crosby, pouncing on the rebound of a Hossa shot and putting it behind Osgood for a 1-0 lead. And there was Crosby again early in the second period, pouncing on a rebound of another Hossa shot and knocking it in on the power play for a 2-0 lead.

Suddenly ... series on again.

The odds remain very much against the Penguins. To win the Cup, they still must win three of the next four games against a great team, two of those games back in Detroit.

But, thanks to Crosby, at least they have a chance.

It's funny, Crosby took some heat after the two losses in Detroit. He had scored only two goals in 12 games, going back to the Ottawa series in the first round. But the critics missed the point. He never disappeared at Joe Louis Arena the way Malkin, Hossa and so many others did. He had a total of nine shots on goal in the two games. He never stopped working, never stopped trying to create for his teammates, never stopped backchecking and forechecking.

The Kid clearly takes his captaincy seriously.

Just as he takes that face of the NHL business seriously.

Scott Burnside, a national columnist for ESPN.com, chided Mario Lemieux in a piece Tuesday for hiding in seclusion and not doing more to sell the NHL during the Cup final. Burnside took a beating from Penguins fans, but he was right on with his criticism. Lemieux's public-relations stance always has been a matter of convenience -- his.

Thank goodness for the league that it has Crosby. Day after day, he faces the hockey media and promotes the sport. To paraphrase him when he was asked if he ever tires of it: Hey, I'm in a pretty good spot here. I'm in the Cup final, doing what I love. Anyway, there are worse things than talking about hockey.

And you wonder why Crosby is so loved at the NHL office?

Bettman and his minions would never admit this publicly, but they'd love to see Crosby in the spotlight for four more fabulous games just like the one last night.

I don't have to tell you the Penguins have the exact same vision.

Maybe, just maybe, both have the one player who can make it happen.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 29, 2008 at 12:00 am

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

For Faneca, New Colors and a New Start With the Jets

By GREG BISHOP
The New York Times
Published: May 23, 2008

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Alan Faneca leaned forward at left guard, same mop of red hair sneaking out of the helmet, same No. 66 stretched across the jersey, same physics lesson delivered after each snap: force = mass (x) acceleration.



Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press
In 10 seasons with Pittsburgh, Jets guard Alan Faneca was named to the Pro Bowl seven times and started 153 regular-season games.


Football felt familiar and felt new, often both at the same time.

Familiar because Faneca spent his career dominating that same position. New because Faneca used to do so in Pittsburgh, before going green and signing with the Jets as a free agent this off-season.

“It’s different when you’ve been in black and gold for a decade,” Faneca said after practice Thursday. “Even the first day, you walk in on the green carpet. You put your workout clothes on, and you’re wearing green shorts.”

Drafted by the Steelers in 1998, Faneca played 10 seasons there, made 7 Pro Bowls, won a Super Bowl and started 153 regular-season games.

He sometimes laughed when teammates, especially younger ones, talked of spending their whole careers in one city, with one team. He knew that football equaled business, that players came and went. But as the years crept by, he could not help wondering: what if he retired in black and gold?

“When you spend as much time as I did in Pittsburgh, you start leaning toward thinking that might be a possibility,” Faneca said.

Everything fell apart before last season, when Faneca expressed unhappiness with his contract and free agency became inevitable. Ten years in one place, then gone, just like that.

The day before the free-agency period, Faneca painted his daughter’s play room, worked on projects around the house, anything that kept him busy. When the Jets called at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 29, his skin was still flecked with yellow paint.

Coach Eric Mangini and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum were on the line. They detailed how they planned to return the Jets to the playoffs after a 4-12 season. They wooed Faneca with his importance to the plan.

He hung up thinking the Jets presented “a strong possibility.” Faneca eventually signed with them for four years and $32 million, with roughly $20 million guaranteed.

Faneca, 31, spent the recent months living in a Marriott down the street from the Jets’ facility here, flying back to visit his family and searching for a house in New Jersey. He closed on new digs May 8, joined shortly after by his wife, Julie, and daughter, Anabelle.

The transition to a new offensive line came easier. Sandwiched between center Nick Mangold and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, two former first-round draft picks entering their third seasons, Faneca provides the veteran presence the Jets lost when Pete Kendall left for Washington last off-season.

“I want to be the rock between them,” Faneca said.

Once a week, the offensive linemen meet for dinner. Despite the size of the deals signed by Faneca and another free agent, Damien Woody, the linemen rotate choosing locations as well as who picks up the check. Recent outings included P. F. Chang’s and Brazilian food.

“I knew him as a great offensive lineman,” Ferguson said of Faneca. “He’s a great player. He’s a real hard worker. That’s what I noticed most.”

Other reactions were similarly positive. When running back Thomas Jones — he of a single rushing touchdown last season, despite more than 1,100 yards — saw Faneca, he rushed over, smiled wide and wrapped him in a bear hug.

Faneca joins a host of free agents the Jets signed this off-season. Are they good enough to get the team back into the playoffs?

“We look good on paper,” Faneca said. “It’s on us to put it on the field and put it all together. In Pittsburgh, we were pretty much the opposite. We probably didn’t look too good on paper, but we got it done.”

Jones would be happy to follow Faneca all the way into the playoffs. After practice Thursday, the rest of the offensive lineman joined Faneca for a photo shoot. They stood in one end zone, Faneca in the middle, ready to put paper into practice.

Tables turned, Penguins in panic mode

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
Sidney Crosby passes the puck around the Red Wings' Nicklas Lidstrom in the second period Monday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.


No one should be surprised by what has happened to the Penguins in the first two games of the Stanley Cup final, nor should they be astonished if it happens again tonight when they meet the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 at Mellon Arena.

The Penguins, once so full of all that seemed necessary to become a champion, have been exposed in the first two games of the final. Not exposed as a bad team, but as a team not worthy of the most cherished trophy in team sports.

No one expected this -- not the players, not the coach, not the fans. Everything had been near-perfect. All phases of their game were humming.

But this is what happens in athletic competition when one team is better than the other or, at least, when one team is playing considerably better at a particular time. The Penguins did this to the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. The Senators were overmatched, but neither the Rangers nor Flyers had any reason to suspect they would be dispatched in five game or play so feebly in the process.

Now it's the Penguins' turn to feel the pain of inadequacy. They are without a goal in two games. Their superstars have been silenced by the defensively magnificent Red Wings.

Evgeni Malkin entered the series in the midst of a slump but still has been able to take his game to an even lower level. He has one goal in the past six games, which is bad, but his one shot in almost 35 minutes of ice time against the Red Wings is worse. Malkin looks nothing like the player who dominated in the early going of the playoffs.

Even Sidney Crosby, no goals in five games, is being made to look mortal by the Red Wings.

After an optional skate yesterday afternoon, veteran forward Gary Roberts talked about what it's like to play against the Red Wings.

"Because of their experience and skill level, they play a real smart game in their own end," he said. "They just don't give you much room. It's not fun. You feel like you're chasing the puck all night, chasing the puck all over the ice. You use so much energy trying to find the puck that by the time you get it, you're exhausted."

The Penguins thought they were adept at possessing the puck. They look like clumsy amateurs compared to the Red Wings.

At a news conference yesterday, coach Michel Therrien reached deep into the standard bag of excuses and said, "Well, honestly, I truly believe the first game our young team was really nervous."

If that is true, shame on the Penguins. After being eliminated in the first round last season and after blazing through three rounds this season, nerves should no longer be used as an excuse. It's the weakest possible reason for poor play.

There aren't many things Therrien can do. He took Ryan Malone off the Malkin line for the second game and teamed him with Crosby and Marian Hossa. The move made sense, but it produced nothing.

In normal times, playing Crosby and Malkin together is not a sound long-term strategy because it weakens the second line. But Malkin's play has been so poor that that reason is no longer valid. Malkin's linemates -- Malone, who has one shot in more than 36 minutes against the Red Wings, and Petr Sykora, who has not scored in six games -- might benefit from playing beside center Jordan Staal.

Therrien acknowledged he might play Malkin and Crosby together in five-on-five situations.

"We would do it at times," he said. "We do it at times."

No move is too crazy in these desperate times.

If they want to bring home the Cup, the Penguins now face the daunting challenge of needing to win four games of five, with two of them on the road, against a team that has thoroughly dominated them. It's a next-to-impossible challenge, but if the Penguins are looking for any kind of hope, they need only go back to 2003.

In that Stanley Cup final, the Anaheim Ducks were shut out by the New Jersey Devils in the first two games by 3-0 scores. The Ducks did not come back to win, but they did extend the series to seven games, with all four losses coming at New Jersey.

Sadly, the Penguins are in such a deep hole against such a strong opponent that that looks to be the best they can do.

Looking ahead to tonight, Roberts said, "It's a huge game. No one is going to tell you it's not a must win. If you go down 3-0 against that team, it's going to be pretty tough to come back.

"We have to believe if we can win tomorrow night and change the momentum in our favor, we'll be right back in the series."

Sounds easy enough, but first they have to score a goal.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 28, 2008 at 12:00 am

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pens, Malkin fail to respond

By Joe Starkey
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, May 27, 2008



The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby watch from the bench during the second period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at Joe Louis Arena, May 26, 2008. The Penguins lost, 3-0, and find themselves down, 2-0, in the series.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


DETROIT -- It would be wildly inaccurate to blame Evgeni Malkin for the Penguins' 3-0 loss Monday in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final.

But he sure didn't help -- unless zero shots, a team-worst minus-2 rating and barely a discernible pulse should be considered helpful.

Malkin became a huge story going into the game because of his largely dispirited play -- 10 shots, one goal and a noticeable lack of energy in the past five games -- and his comments in yesterday's Tribune-Review.

"I'm just tired," Malkin said the day before the game. "Practice is long. The season is long. I feel bad."

He must feel worse today, what with the Penguins buried in a 2-0 hole going into Game 3 Wednesday night at Mellon Arena.

Malkin's entire line somehow failed to record a shot.

Afterward, Penguins coach Michel Therrien deflected the first reporter's question, which was, "You had a conversation with Malkin (Sunday) about him being a leader in this game. How do you explain him having zero shots?"

Instead of an explanation, Therrien offered up some sour grapes.

"It's really tough to generate offense against that team," he said. "They're good on obstruction. It's going to be tough to generate any type of offense if the rules remain the same. It's the first time we're facing a team (where) the obstruction is there."

Please. The Red Wings have skated circles around the Penguins for five consecutive periods, outshooting them, 59-29, over that span and outscoring them, 7-0.

As Penguins winger Marian Hossa put it, when asked about the obstruction charge, "If they're doing (anything) illegal, they're doing it smart."

Who would have thought that after rolling through the first three rounds with a 12-2 record, the Penguins would look so utterly feeble in the final?

The reasons are many.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has been ordinary, at best. The Penguins' other stars, Hossa and Sidney Crosby, are barely noticeable, though Crosby had six shots last night and is facing the best defenseman in the world, Nicklas Lidstrom, on most shifts. Their role players are doing nothing compared to Detroit's.

And, oh yes, the Red Wings are pretty good.

Detroit is incredibly systematic in everything it does -- from the way it enters the Penguins' zone to the way a forward rolls back to cover for defenseman Niklas Kronwall when he lays a monster hit (which he did again last night, ruining Jarkko Ruutu early in the first period).



The Detroit Red Wings' Valtteri Filppula (51) scores past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during the third period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final Monday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Penguins lost, 3-0, and find themselves down, 2-0, in the series.
Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review


One of the more underrated Red Wings is center Valtteri Filppula, who scored a gorgeous goal and often was pitted against Malkin.

"He's a great player; the main thing is to stay close and not give him room," Filppula said of Malkin. "I really have to work."

Malkin needs to work harder. He was a wild buck for two rounds, plus the opener against the Flyers, before suddenly losing his jump.

Considering all the rest the Penguins have gotten between rounds, it's hard to believe Malkin is worn down.

Sure, he needs more help, but one shot through two games? For a guy who's a Hart Trophy finalist -- an alleged difference-maker -- he has made no difference whatsoever.

And please don't give me the "inexperience" excuse. This is Henrik Zetterberg's first Stanley Cup final, too, and he looks pretty good.

There's still time, of course. Conventional wisdom says you're not in trouble in a playoff series until you lose a home game, and it was nice to see the Penguins show some spunk in the latter stages last night.

Maybe Malkin finds that extra gear in Game 3. Therrien is banking on it.

"We've got to keep supporting him," Therrien said. "Eventually, players like this, usually they find ways."

Based on everything we know about these Penguins, they’ll be feisty and tough to play against at Mellon Arena. But no matter what conventional wisdom says, they're already in trouble.

Deep trouble.


Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at jstarkey@tribweb.com.

Detroit's domination has Penguins dazed, confused

Tuesday, May 27, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby reacts after the Red Wings scored their first goal.


DETROIT -- Is it too late to pick the Detroit Red Wings in three games?

Hey, I asked that same question about the Penguins after Game 1 of their series against the Philadelphia Flyers because they clearly looked to be the superior team.

Well, guess what?

The Red Wings have exactly the same look against your Penguins.

It's not just that Detroit won Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final at Joe Louis Arena last night, 3-0. It's the way it dominated the Penguins for the second time in three nights to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

Two games.

Two shutouts.

At this point, I'm not going to be greedy and ask for a Penguins goal. Not after watching the Red Wings play stifling defense for 120 minutes of one-sided hockey. I'd settle for a mere good scoring chance. Or even a good shot on net.

"We just have to be patient about it," Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu insisted late last night. "It's no secret. We have to put more pucks on net and then crash the net."

Easier said than done against this Detroit gang.

It's hard to believe how well and easily the Red Wings have shut the Penguins down. A fabulous offensive team led by the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa has been rendered practically impotent.

OK, totally impotent.

After having four power plays in the first period of Game 1 and getting 12 shots, the Penguins did next to nothing. Their shot totals in the next five periods: 4, 3, 6, 6 and 10.

That's weak.

Last night, the Penguins didn't get an even-strength shot until more than five minutes were gone in the second period. In the two games, the Red Wings had a 41-23 edge in shots 5-on-5. Malkin had no shots last night after getting one in Game 1. Hossa had one last night.

That's really weak.

How can you win when you can't score?

"We just need to get one -- one goal," Penguins defenseman Hal Gill said. "Sometimes, that can get you going and get your swagger back."

It's easy to blame the Penguins' stars -- and Ryan Malone [four minor penalties last night], Petr Sykora and Jordan Staal, for that matter -- but the Red Wings deserve a ton of credit. Their defensemen have moved the puck out of their end superbly. They always seemed to have a third man back, preventing any and all odd-man rushes. They did a wonderful job keeping the Penguins out of the middle of the ice and to the outside where they are less dangerous. They didn't just have the puck most of the time. They had it in the Penguins' end.

After the game last night, Penguins coach Michel Therrien accused the Red Wings of being "good on obstruction" in one rant and accused Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood of diving in another. Those are the things a desperate man says as he's reaching for any kind of lifeline. It was a little sad to watch him stoop to that level.

The truth?

The Penguins have been outplayed in every phase of the game.



Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Detroit goalie Chris Osgood makes a save on Sidney Crosby in the first period last night.


Maybe that's why the television cameras caught Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik with a what-have-we-got-ourselves-into look after the second Detroit goal midway through the first period, a tap-in by Tomas Holmstrom after a shot by Henrik Zetterberg had trickled through the legs of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

At that point, the Red Wings had an 8-0 edge in shots.

It would continue to be all Detroit, all night.

Where were the Flyers when the Penguins needed them?

Of course, the Penguins didn't wave any white flags afterward. They talked bravely of executing better, getting an early lead and playing from in front in Game 3 tomorrow night at home, where they have won 16 games in a row. Fleury, who had another off night, figures to be bigger in goal; he has won 18 consecutive games at Mellon Arena. And Therrien will have the final line change, which should lead to better matchups.

"It's not like we lost the first two games at home and have to go on the road," winger Max Talbot said. "All our guys are pumped about going home."

It's also not like the Red Wings are unbeatable. They lost twice in their first-round series against Nashville and twice in the third round to Dallas.

But, after what happened in the two games here, it's difficult to like the Penguins' chances of coming back to make this a series. Therrien already tried reconfiguring his lines for Game 2. That really worked well, didn't it? The Malkin-Talbot-Sykora line produced no shots.

What's next? Luring Mario Lemieux out of retirement?

There also is this final, troubling stat:

In Stanley Cup final history, home teams that have swept the first two games have gone on to win the title 30 of 31 times.

That and the Red Wings seem like an awful lot to ask the Penguins to overcome.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 27, 2008 at 12:00 am

Reputations falling as fast as Penguins

Roberts' punch to Franzen's head was team's low point

Tuesday, May 27, 2008
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
The Red Wings' Brad Stuart checks Petr Sykora into the board in the second period last night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.


DETROIT -- Sidney Crosby hasn't scored a goal since Mother's Day.

Evgeni Malkin skates in quicksand.

Ryan Malone can't function unless he's under the world's largest formerly retractable stainless steel roof.

And that Marian Hossa trade so widely hailed? Did it really happen? I mean, is he here?

Marc-Andre Fleury looks as though he could jump out of his skin, at least the portion of it he didn't leave on the ice with that memorable entrance in Game 1.

It's not just that the Penguins are losing badly in the Stanley Cup final, reputations are being lost as well. Unless they want to be remembered for nothing more accomplished than Gary Roberts' awful, chicken-scat cheap shot left hook to the temple of concussion-recovering Johan Franzen, some kind of magical adjustment that currently seems beyond their capability is needed before 8 p.m. tomorrow.

If all that weren't embarrassing enough, Penguins coach Michel Therrien was intent on blaming the officials, who are about the 82nd most impactful architects of this 2-0 well the Penguins find themselves in.

"They're good at obstruction," Therrien said of the impending Stanley Cup champions. "It's going to be tough to generate any offense if the rules [are going to be enforced] the same. It's the first time we've faced a team where the obstruction is there. We took two penalties against the goaltender. We never do that. He's a good actor. He's diving. He did the same thing against Dallas."

This is merely Therrien's way of trying to take some heat off his stars, ultra-profile forces suddenly reduced to non-entities by Detroit's near flawless backchecking. It can't be their fault. He can't lose them now, so it has got to be somebody else's fault. At least he didn't blame the octopi.

"I think our guys just realize it's the opportunity of a lifetime," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "You've got to be jacked up to play against these guys. Malkin is a candidate for the Hart Trophy. Malkin and Hossa and [Jordan] Staal, we've got to shut those people down if we're going to win."

Asked about how the Red Wings were neutralizing Crosby, Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom actually said, "Who?"

Didn't mean to be flip. He just didn't hear the question. When it was repeated, he explained the whole clinical process.

"I'm working my [butt] off out there trying to keep up with Crosby and Hossa," he said.



Peter Diana/Post-Gazette
Penguins coach Michel Therrien makes a point.


Pranksters might have awakened the Penguins by activating the fire alarm at their hotel at 1:30 a.m., but the fellas were fast asleep again by 8:15 p.m., which just happened to be game time.

Having slept fitfully through a miserable third period at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night, managing the somnambulant total of three shots on goal, the Penguins seemed determined to get through a period entirely shotless before the end of the Stanley Cup final, now approaching rapidly.

Nothing but nothing could awaken them, not even Niklas Kronwall's thunderous hit on Jarkko Ruutu along the boards three minutes after the opening faceoff.

In Game 2, the Red Wings had eight shots before the Penguins had even one, and two of those found the net behind Fleury. Sergei Gonchar's power-play chance nearly 12 minutes into the first period was the first time anyone noticed that goalie Chris Osgood had reported for work.

When the first period ended, the Penguins had gone 95 minutes, 57 seconds since they last scored a goal. Perhaps you recall it. Early in the third period against Philadelphia nine days ago?

Naw, me neither.

It's now 135 minutes and change, if you're still interested.

Unless the Red Wings fall on their faces, the degree of difficulty for the Penguins in this championship round has just tripled. It was only when Red Wings defenseman Andreas Lilja fell to all fours in his own zone that the Penguins got a first-rate scoring chance late in period two. Roberts collected the puck and fed it to Staal, who fired it at Osgood, collected the rebound, backhanded it again, and got nothing.

There's a lot of talk about goalie equipment surrounding the final, but no one has said out loud that Osgood seems to have a mattress and box spring in front of the Detroit goal. Of course he doesn't, otherwise the Penguins would be all over it, tucked in for the night.

Still, Staal's appearance in the slot ended a long stretch in which the Penguins appeared to abandon the center of the offensive end. Like real Penguins in those Discovery Channel shows, they're standing around on the edge of the ice flow, waiting for something I could identify if I'd just stay off the mute button.

We all might have a lot more time for that kind of programming by the weekend.

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.
First published on May 27, 2008 at 12:40 am

Monday, May 26, 2008

Therrien's moves make sense

By Joe Starkey
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, May 26, 2008



Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Penguins coach Michel Therrien talks to his players at practice yesterday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. After being shut out, 4-0, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, Therrien is shifting the Penguins' lines around for tonight's game.


DETROIT: The act of a desperate man, overreacting to one measly loss?

Some will view it that way.

And they will be wrong.

Based on the forward combinations seen at Sunday's practice, Penguins coach Michel Therrien apparently will revamp every line for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final tonight.

The new combos:

• Ryan Malone-Sidney Crosby-Marian Hossa

• Maxime Talbot-Evgeni Malkin-Petr Sykora

• Pascal Dupuis-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy

• Gary Roberts-Adam Hall-Jarkko Ruutu

Desperation is making sweeping changes when you're down 3-0, the way the Flyers did. Therrien is being proactive, responding to an opponent that plays nothing like the Penguins' previous three.

This is not the first time Therrien has been proactive in these playoffs. After sweeping Ottawa, he changed two of his defense pairs before Game 1 against New York.

"We have to make adjustments," he said yesterday.

If I'm Therrien, I take the overhaul a bit further. I go back to the old defense pairings, which had an offensive presence on each, and alter the power play.

It really is time for the team's best shooter - Malkin - to start shooting again, and that isn't going to happen from the left point. Malkin is not comfortable there, for at least one obvious reason: He's a left-handed shot, so his ability to unleash one-timers is nearly negated.

Malkin has only 10 shots (one goal) in the past five games. He has gone eight games without a power-play goal. Therrien and assistant coach Mike Yeo, who runs the power play, should put him back on the right side, preferably up front, around the circle, and use Ryan Whitney on the left point.

Doing so might give Malkin a confidence boost, which could extend to his even-strength game.

We've seen that sort of thing happen before.

When Alex Kovalev came to Pittsburgh, he refused to shoot and was a massive underachiever. Coach Kevin Constantine finally decided to put Kovalev on the right point on the power play and told him to fire away.

Kovalev never stopped. His confidence grew, and his career took off, providing evidence that how a player is used on the power play can extend to his overall game.

If the coaching staff insists on keeping Malkin at the left point, maybe Talbot's speed can help jumpstart him at even-strength.

Therrien obviously saw in Game 1 what a lot of us saw: His team looked a step slow and was unable to convert glorious opportunities early on.

Malone, perhaps, can capitalize on some of the Crosby-generated chances that Dupuis struggled with.

Asked if he was upset about the change, Dupuis said, "Not at all. I'm all about winning."

Roberts apparently will force Georges Laraque out of the lineup. Makes sense. The tempo of the series seems too fast for Laraque.

The Red Wings, of course, are so good that none of this might work. But I'd rather try to get ahead of the game then remain hopelessly behind it, the way the Penguins were for the latter two periods of Game 1.


Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at jstarkey@tribweb.com.

'Confident' Pirates capitalize on Soriano's lousy luck

Bay's 11th-inning single sinks Cubs for 14th comeback win

Monday, May 26, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



John Heller/Associated Press
Nate McLouth, Jason Bay and Xavier Nady celebrate Sunday after Bay hit the winning single to score Chris Gomez in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Chicago Cubs 6-5 at PNC Park.


Sure, there was luck.

Anytime an opposing outfielder flubs a fly ball for what should have been the final out, hey, nothing shy of a treasure of good fortune has been unearthed.

Still ...

Ask the Pirates about their 6-5, 11-inning triumph over the Chicago Cubs yesterday at PNC Park, an outcome sealed by Jason Bay's second walkoff RBI single in less than 24 hours, and they do not exactly sound apologetic.

Not even with Chicago's Alfonso Soriano having lost Nate McLouth's high fly in the sun with two outs in the ninth, resulting in an RBI double that tied the score at 5-5.

"You know what the difference is?" Bay said. "In years past, and I don't mean this as any slight to anyone, we'd tie that game but we wouldn't finish it off. Well, not this one. And not the last one, either."

He was referring to the 5-4, 14-inning victory Saturday night, an amazingly similar game in which the Pirates also scored in the bottom of the ninth to tie, followed by Bay ending it with a single.

"This would be very uncharacteristic of the teams I've been on in the past here," he continued. "But we've been doing this all year, and maybe it's because of that, like a cause-and-effect, that the road has been paved. We know how to do it now. It's a lot different than when you're trying, but you don't know how."

The numbers back Bay in the larger scope, too: The Pirates now have come from behind in 14 of their 24 wins, third-most in Major League Baseball, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. There also have been seven occasions when they have either tied the score in the ninth inning or won outright.

Starter Paul Maholm became the latest to credit manager John Russell on that front.

"I think we've always played hard," Maholm said. "Now, it's just that we're more confident, especially late in the game, to get the job done. And that comes from J.R. He's told us from opening day to play hard until the final out, and guys have taken that to heart."

The final out on this day appeared to be off McLouth's bat.

With the Cubs ahead, 5-4, the Pirates had pinch-runner Brian Bixler at first, and Carlos Marmol had two outs and a 2-2 count on McLouth when he skied a ball to left. Soriano backpedaled, got it under it and ... at the last second, he used his left arm to shield his eyes, and the ball clanked off the heel of his glove.

Bixler scored easily, as the crowd of 29,415 celebrated, with some in the bleachers adding taunts for Soriano.

"It's very tough when you don't see the ball," Soriano said. "I saw it clearly when it got off the bat but, when the ball was coming down, it got in the sun. I lost it."

The Pirates expressed some sympathy: Their regular batting practices for night games at PNC Park begin at 4:30 p.m., and no one likes shagging flies in left because of the sun.

"It gets wicked," McLouth said.

Soriano was aware.

"I tried to prepare for it in BP the other day, to be ready," he said. "But there was nothing I could do."

Because Maholm lasted eight serviceable innings -- five runs, eight hits, seven strikeouts -- the Pirates had the luxury of using their freshest arms, Franquelis Osoria and Damaso Marte, in relief. Osoria put up zeroes in the ninth and 10th, Marte the 11th.

Chris Gomez opened the bottom of the 11th with an infield single off Jon Lieber, and Bixler bunted him to second. One out later, McLouth was intentionally walked to get to Bay.

He fouled off one fastball, then pulled the next into the left-field corner to end it and earn yet another helmet-pounding from his teammates. And this after playing six years in the majors without a walkoff hit.

"Two in a career doesn't make me Mr. Walkoff, but back-to-back is pretty neat," Bay said.



Pittsburgh Pirates Luis Rivas taps fists after hitting his first home run of the game in the first inning against the Chicago Cubs and the Pirates later won in the11th inning 6-5 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/John Heller)


Other contributors abounded: Luis Rivas homered twice off Chicago starter Ted Lilly, and Xavier Nady hit his eighth, all solo shots. Adam LaRoche doubled twice and made two hard slides to score a run. McLouth reached base four times and made a superb diving catch in the sixth.

The key, some said, was Maholm going as deep as he did, even with a season-high pitch count of 121.

"We just had a long game, so I told J.R. I wanted to go a little longer than normal," Maholm said. "Luckily, I kept my pitch count down early."

"That really saved us," Russell said.

The Pirates pulled within two games of .500 at 24-26 by taking two of three from the first-place Cubs, who had been 8-1 against them.

All of which might have contributed to the palpably enthusiastic feeling on the home side.

"Put it this way," McLouth said. "I think we felt pretty good about ourselves before. But now, taking two like this, and especially from the Cubs ... it feels good. It really does. I can't tell you what that atmosphere is like in our dugout right now."

It was quite the opposite on the other side for a change.

"Let's forget what happened and go about our business," Chicago manager Lou Piniella said. "That's all I've got to say about the last two days."


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com.
First published on May 26, 2008 at 12:00 am


PIRATES NOTEBOOK: STRUCK BY BAT? NO SWEAT FOR SIZZLING BAY

Monday, May 26, 2008
By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Pittsburgh Pirates' Jason Bay hits the game-winning single driving in teammate Chris Gomez to defeat the Chicago Cubs 6-5 in 11 innings at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 25, 2008.
(AP Photo/John Heller)


How hot is Jason Bay?

Consider that, shortly before his RBI single in the 11th inning ended the Pirates' 6-5 victory yesterday, Luis Rivas lost his grip swinging through strike three, and the bat whirled into the dugout and struck Bay in the back ... and it never fazed him in the slightest.

He pronounced it "no big deal," saying that it did not hit him squarely. Still, he had to be reminded about the incident.

"Wow! Oh, yeah," he said. "How do you forget something like that?"

Perhaps the same way it is easy now to forget that, not so long ago, Bay was labeled -- not without cause -- a no-clutch, no-field, no-speed liability.

But here he is, nearly two months into the first full season since 2005 in which neither knee has caused him trouble, with a .290 average, a dozen home runs, 26 RBIs, five steals, no issues with his defense and ... well, that .200 average with runners in scoring position probably is tempered somewhat by two walkoff hits in less than 24 hours.

"I'm feeling very comfortable up there right now, but there's a difference between being comfortable and getting results," Bay said. "This feels really good right now."

"You look at what he's doing for us right now, and all year, actually, he's had some very clutch hits for us," manager John Russell said. "He's the type of hitter who, when he's going like this, can really carry your club."