Max Talbot, right, scored both goals for the Penguins in a 2-1 victory over Detroit in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final.CreditJeff Kowalsky/European Pressphoto Agency
You had better believe he was watching. And when Bryan Rust poked in that second goal to give the Penguins a sliver of breathing room in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, you know what Max Talbot was doing.
“You know how it is, that's still my first love,” Talbot said Friday while driving around Montreal.
“I'm still a Pens fan.”
First loves are special. Talbot is among the luckiest among we whose first heartbreak didn't destroy our affection for our first love.
Had it been his call, Talbot would have been on the ice at Consol Energy Center when some of his best buddies grabbed the Prince of Wales Trophy. He would have hugged Sidney Crosby instead of sending the Penguins captain a text message.
“Sid got right back to me,” Talbot said.
Of course he did.
What, you thought the business of hockey had come between Sid and Max? No way.
Five years ago, when Talbot's Penguins tenure ended in the most unimaginable of ways (he signed with the Flyers!), Crosby was the first former teammate to call with congratulations. So it only seemed right that Talbot follow Crosby's lead after the Penguins' second-greatest Game 7 moment of the Crosby era.
Hey, it's nothing personal, Rusty.
It's just that Talbot's Game 7 heroics brought Stanley back to Pittsburgh. And bringing Stanley home is better than bringing the Penguins to his dance.
Still, Talbot knows what life in the Steel City will be like for the rest of Rust's life.
“They'll never forget you,” he said. “That's how it's been for me.”
In many ways, it feels like forever since Talbot scored twice at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009. It seems like a lifetime has passed since one of his best friends, Marc-Andre Fleury, made those goals stand up in the Penguins' 2-1 victory over the Red Wings.
Now, Fleury isn't even the Penguins' go-to goalie. Rookie Matt Murray has supplanted the “Flower,” who has turned to Talbot often during an unimaginably trying stretch.
Without betraying Fleury's confidence, Talbot said their discussions have come “between games … but we don't go too deep.”
“I could only guess how hard the games are for him,” Talbot said. “But ‘Flower' is the best guy. You see him on the bench, smiling, talking to Murray during breaks. I know he's happy for the guys in the room. I know he's trying to do whatever he can to help them win.
The same can be said for the lives of Talbot and five current Penguins with whom he will be eternally bonded.
Like Fleury, Talbot has married a Canadian beauty and is raising two young children. Any day now, Evgeni Malkin's fiancée will deliver his first son. Even Crosby has settled into a routine with his girlfriend.
During the Cup run, only Chris Kunitz was a father among the five Penguins' holdovers to this season.
Before the Cup run, Talbot was a popular Penguin. After Game 7 of the 2009 Cup Final, he was a legendary Penguin. Then, Talbot said, he vacationed “somewhere warm” with Crosby and Malkin, and they talked openly about “doing it again next year.”
On Friday, Talbot agreed to play next season with Lokomotiv of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.
It helped that his wife was on board with spending a year in Yaroslavl. Made it easier that the Talbots' young boys aren't in school. Also, Talbot figured he would receive no better than a two-way offer when NHL free agency opened July 1.
Given the way he is chasing hockey, maybe the Penguins weren't Talbot's first love?
He has worked a few playoff games for TVA Sports in Canada. He is open to coaching. Only 32, however, Talbot still wants to play.
He also wants his Penguins pals to take a deep breath between now and a return to the Cup Final that nobody guessed would be seven years in the making.
“I would definitely tell those guys to know how lucky they are to play for the Penguins,” Talbot said. “The organization, the city, those fans — it's special, and if you've only played in Pittsburgh, you might not know that. I've been on three teams since I left, so I can appreciate what's there.”
Talbot better believe that no matter where he is, an organization, a city and its people appreciate the impact he made in Pittsburgh. After all, the one Cup win that so many folks have said wasn't enough for Crosby's Penguins — it happened because of Mighty Max.
But it isn't enough.
“Well, that's the other thing I'd tell those guys,” Talbot said. “Twice is better than once.”