WILD 2, PENGUINS 1
The Trib’s Terrific Trio:
1 – G Nicklas Backstrom, Wild
Key stats: 34 saves, including 19 over the final two periods
Rossi: Often it will take a stellar effort from an opposing goalie to stymie the Penguins, even when they are without several key offensive weapons such as C Evgeni Malkin, D Sergei Gonchar and RW Tyler Kennedy; Backstrom is stellar more often than not for Minnesota.
2 – C Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Key stats: 4 attempted shots, 23:46 of ice time
Rossi: Crosby finished with a minus-1 rating, but he was the best player on a top line that attempted 14 shots and dictated play often. Unfortunately, he was in the penalty box serving a fighting major and slashing minor when the Penguins had an early third-period power play chance.
3 – C Mikko Koivu, Wild
Key stat: 6 attempted shots, 8-for-12 on faceoffs
Rossi: A player doesn’t have to get on the scoresheet to leave an impact. Koivu was a stabilizing force for the Wild, who had to hang on for dear life late to prevent the Penguins from pulling even.
SAY IT, SIR
“Know anybody that wants to buy a house?”
— Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, who has yet to move his old suburban Pittsburgh home
Rossi: Were I not so fond of my Brookline abode, perhaps I’d take up Chuck on his offer. Actually, who am I kidding? Anyway, I’m telling everybody now that Fletcher’s Wild will be one tough team to beat over the final 25 games. They’re going through some growing pains during a transition period from a defense-first philosophy to an up tempo style favored by Fletcher and Wild HC Todd Richards. They’ll get it together for the NHL representative in the “State of Hockey.”
I hope I’m not alone in digging the national anthem performance by Pens TV’s Alyonka Larionov. Her cascading end to “the flag was still there…” is deserving of reconsideration by many readers that have sent me emails detailing their displeasure with it. (Seriously, people, are you tone-deaf? The girl has pipes.)
I know it’s become taboo to suggest that anybody other than local legend Jeff Jimerson perform anthems at the Igloo, but the Penguins would be wise to find regular anthem work for Alyonka — perhaps this season on Saturday nights, when crowds I’m guessing trend younger, and certainly a lot at Consol Energy Center.
If the Penguins are going stick with defying ordinary when the move into the CEC, as their slogan suggests, they could do worse than to hand Alyonka the microphone and let her sing our national anthem, the Canadian anthem and the Russian anthem before every home game. The Flyers’ Lauren Hart would ear her heart out.
ON THE BEAT ROAD: Wild RW Petr Sykora
A yarn about Wild RW Petr Sykora, who along with Fletcher received his Stanley Cup ring before the game:
Sykora was one of my favorite players to cover over the last two years. He and I shared numerous wise-cracking conversations, including one on the eve of the 2008 playoffs that practically floored my colleagues.
Seated at his dressing room stall, Sykora was not interested in speaking to the media before Game 1 of an opening-round series against Ottawa. I approached him and started a conversation. Within seconds he was surrounded by reporters holding to his face microphones and digital audio recorders.
“What?” he asked in his trademark faux-agitated tone. “What could you possibly want to talk to me about?
I told him that I’d hoped to speak to Petr Sykora, a veteran (then) of three Stanley Cup finalists, about what a strong first postseason game could do for a team that fancied itself a Cup contender. I added that I thought Petr Sykora, a former Cup winner with New Jersey, could provide great insight into what home-ice advantage, which the Penguins had, could mean to a young team looking to assert its contender status on the biggest stage.
“OK,” he said, looking not at me but the entire media horde surrounding him. “What do you want?
Nobody spoke for a few seconds, until I asked if Petr Sykora, a veteran of three Stanley Cup finalists, could explain what a strong first postseason game could do for a team that fancied itself a Cup contender; and if Petr Sykora, a former Cup winner with New Jersey, could provide some insight into what home-ice advantage, which the Penguins had, could mean to a young team looking to assert its contender status on the biggest stage.
Sykora blinked (twice I recall) and laughed heartily.
“Pretty good, buddy,” he said. “I didn’t see that one coming.”
That was my relationship with Sykora in a nutshell. I’ve heard him described as difficult by many hockey scribes that have covered him. Admittedly, I wish he had been more forthcoming — nay, chatty — when we chatted before this game.
However, Sykora will always be a special athlete for me to have covered. I’m convinced he helped me establish a strong player-media relationship with Malkin, his close friend, by letting Malkin know I could be trusted because I was trying to speak with him in English. For that, I’m eternally thankful to Sykora.
Mostly, though, I appreciated Sykora for his honesty. If he didn’t want to answer a question, he’d say, “Sorry, I’m not going to talk about that.” If I pressed, he’d ask, “What do you want me to say if I can’t say anything?” Beat reporters appreciate that approach from a player; at least I did with Sykora.
— BY ROB ROSSI (10/31/09)
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