Max Talbot isn't a big-name player. He's a big-game player. And the games don't get any bigger than a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final.
And the performances don't get much larger than the one Talbot turned in during Pittsburgh's 2-1 victory over Detroit at Joe Louis Arena on Friday night as he scored both of the Penguins' goals to make the third Stanley Cup in franchise history – and the first since 1992 – possible.
"I don't have a good explanation about why this guy can come up big in tough situations or big games," Penguins rookie head coach Dan Bylsma said. "But he's done it enough to know that's what he can do.
"He's gritty, he's determined and he's not scared to go after it."
Talbot got his first goal at 1:13 of the second period to open the scoring, then scored what proved to be the Cup-winner at 10:07, when he put a shot over the glove of Detroit goalie Chris Osgood on a 2-on-1 break with Tyler Kennedy.
Not a bad night's work for a guy who's usually touted for his penalty-killing and defensive work, although Talbot didn't seem terribly impressed by his individual feat.
"I don't really care about the two goals," he said. "Everybody's talking to me about that.
"I'm here [at a media conference] because of that. But we won the game."
That second goal stood up as the game-winner because goalie Marc-Andre Fleury lunged across the crease to deny Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom from the inner edge of the left circle with about a second to go in regulation and the Penguins clinging to a 2-1 lead.
"I saw the shot coming in, and I just tried to do everything I could to get over there," Fleury said.
He made it and, in the process, saved the Penguins' victory and obliterated any remnants of his reputation as a goaltender who can’t win the big game.
Fleury's teammates have disputed that suggestion for years, but winning a Stanley Cup – and preserving it with a spectacular last-season save – makes the subject a complete non-issue.
"Fleury is a winning goaltender right now," Talbot said. "Everybody's always saying 'Oh, we're not sure. He never won anything.'
"But you know what? He proved to everybody that he's a winning goaltender and I'm so happy for that and that's going to stay with him."
Pittsburgh centre Evgeni Malkin was widely criticized for the way he faded during the Penguins’ playoff run a year ago. Not this time.
Malkin finished as the leading scorer in the playoffs and, by assisting on Talbot's first goal, pushed his points total to 36.
"He told us before the playoffs that he was going to lead us to the Stanley Cup," Penguins right-winger Bill Guerin said. "He's an amazing competitor, an amazing player."
Sidney Crosby is the Penguins' captain and their undisputed leader, but he took only one 32-second shift during the final 34-plus minutes of the game.
Crosby was injured when Detroit's Johan Franzen hit him at centre ice, pinning Crosby’s left knee between Franzen’s left leg and the boards.
"I don't know if I chipped the puck or somehow the puck kind of got ahead of me," Crosby said. "Franzen kind of finished me.
"I tried to jump to avoid it, and my knee got jammed between his hip and the dasher, the ledge on the boards. It jammed the outside of my knee.
"I couldn't walk, really. So I took my skate off and tried to move it around.
"They gave me as much numbing as they possibly could and I still couldn't really skate that much. I went out for one shift to try it.
"I figured I could go out there and maybe spot in once in a while if guys got tired. I knew we had a short bench with me being out.
"I tried to spot in a bit, but I couldn't really stop or turn ... I just had to stick with it and watch from there.”
With Crosby removed from the mix, Bylsma shifted Jordan Staal from the third line into Crosby's spot between Guerin and Chris Kunitz and moved Talbot off Malkin's right wing and plugged him into Staal's place between Matt Cooke and Kennedy.
The particulars of Crosby's injury weren't immediately known, but he said it does not appear to be serious and that he expects to be over its effects "in a few weeks."
Crosby is the youngest captain in NHL history to win a Cup and was able to go on the ice with his teammates at the end of the game. And to enjoy the celebration as much as anyone.
"It’s everything you dream of," Crosby said. "It’s an amazing feeling."
To good health
A lot of things went right to make it possible for Pittsburgh to win the Stanley Cup. One things widely overlooked was good health.
The Penguins lost just three man-games to injuries during their 24-game playoff run.
Defenceman Sergei Gonchar sat out two with a right knee injury after knee-on-knee contact initiated by Washington's Alex Ovechkin during Game 2 of the second round and right-winger Petr Sykora missed Friday's game after breaking his right foot blocking a shot in Game 6.
The Red Wings, by way of comparison, lost about 70 man-games.
The Penguins were five points out of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot when Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as head coach Feb. 15.
He promptly led them to an 18-3-4 record in the final 25 regular-season games and a 16-8 mark in the playoffs, but acknowledged after Game 7 that he didn’t anticipate having so much success so quickly.
"I think I knew the quality of the players we had and the team that we had," he said. "I believed in the organization we had and you do let your mind wander.
"You do think this is a team that could win a Stanley Cup. Maybe not this particular year.
"I didn't think that. But you've got a good group of players in there and they've been through a lot, even though they're young, and they have a lot of character.
"We just got them focused in a different direction. I think the game is meant to be played aggressively and in-your-face.
"When you can dictate the pace of the game and where it's played, you can put teams back on their heels. That's a fun way to play and that's, I think, the right way to play.
"I'm a little surprised how quick they bought in and how quick they got it. But I'm not surprised how good they became."
The Penguins didn't just defeat Detroit in Game 7, they overcame a lot
of history and precedent. The victory made them the:
- only team to win a road game in the series
- third visiting team to win a Game 7 in a Cup final. Home clubs have won 12
- second team to defeat Detroit at Joe Louis in these playoffs. The Wings finished 11-2 there
- only club except the 1971 Montreal Canadiens to win a Cup final after dropping the first two games on the road
- second team to win a Cup by earning two Game 7 away victories
- Penguins' Talbot cements reputation as big-game player
- Saturday, June 13, 2009
- Red Wings too late in arriving in Game 7
- Saturday, June 13, 2009
- Penguins sticking to regular routines
- Friday, June 12, 2009
- Babcock low-key all the way for Game 7
- Friday, June 12, 2009
- Rafalski shares Game 7 Stanley Cup wisdom
- Thursday, June 11, 2009
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