GOOD GUYS GET DUE REWARDS
Count this beat reporter as pleased to have seen Tuesday night in the visiting dressing room at Bell Center two guys smiling who hadn’t done a lot of that in the past couple of days. Penguins C Evgeni Malkin and G Marc-Andre Fleury deserved a star turn after feeling the heat beneath them from the fans of the team for which they play.
I’ve shared enough stories about my interactions with both men, and I’d like to resist boring dear readers with additional tales simply to prove a point that, really, shouldn’t need to be made. Still, these are two of the good guys in a sport full of them. They are guys that care deeply, have tried hard to learn a foreign language and when speaking it to answer questions, and they never offer excuses or assign blame to others – even when they could.
Oh, and they are two of the three biggest reasons the Penguins are defending Stanley Cup champions.
A couple of less than exceptional playoff performances were enough to turn some fans against them. That made no sense to me.
Some readers have e-mailed me to note that in January I was critical of Malkin. They wondered how them being critical was any different. My answer is that I’m not a fan of the Penguins. The Trib pays me to report on them and provide insight, and at the point when I wrote a column on Malkin’s struggles, I felt the proper insight was that he could do more to help the team, specifically by producing.
What readers might be surprised to know is that Malkin told me he had no problem with that column. “I wasn’t playing good,” he said a few months after it was published. “When I play good, you can write that.”
Fair enough, I told him.
Well, Geno, you were “playing good” in Game 3, and you’ve played better in the playoffs than most people back home are realizing.
As for Flower – well, as I’ve said before, he should be judged by one stat: wins. His shutout in Game 3 was playoff win No. 37. Former G Tom Barasso’s franchise record is 56.
Probably 90 percent of Penguins fans love Malkin and Fleury no matter what they do. The other 10 percent I don’t understand. Were I covering those 10 percent of Penguins fans, I’d provide insight that pointed out they, too, could do more to help the team.
COOL SCENE FROM THE ROOM
A dressing room crowded with reporters, and somehow the most famous French Canadian in Penguins history managed to slip by everybody, sneak into a player’s lounge area, say “good job, boys,” and leave the room – all without much notice.
That famous French Canadian: Mario Lemieux, who never had a chance to play a playoff game in his native Montreal. The smile on his face after Game 3 suggested he enjoyed watching his cherished club win one.
FROM THE BEAT ROAD: MONTREAL
I doubt many readers who have come to know me would be shocked to learn that I am not easily impressed. In fact, many of my better friends in the hockey writing community have noted that I am often too busy complaining about something to notice all the wonderful sights and sounds of a playoff series.
Keeping that in mind I paid special attention to the pregame video/anthems/opening shifts of Game 2.
“Trio” member Corey Masisak, who is freelancing this series for NHL.com, had told me during the opening round, when he covered the Capitals for CSN Washington, that if I was lucky I would get a chance to cover a playoff series in Montreal.
“Next round,” I told him.
Well, we’re both here, and aside from the annoying absence of our brother-in-arms Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press, I couldn’t be happier than to have seen Corey witness my sappy melting on Tuesday night.
After a mind-blowing video production on the most hi-def board I’ve seen, two anthem performances that caused me to feel as though I was standing stone-like at midnight, and in-synch serenading of the Habs by a sellout crowd at Bell Center – well, I found Corey in the press box and said, “You were right; this is pretty cool!”
To the dear readers who have never experienced a playoff game at Montreal: Put it on your bucket list. You will not be disappointed. I’ve covered several a Super Bowl, two Cup Final series, two All-Star Games, an NCAA tournament, and a bunch of really cool concerts. Nothing, and the Rocky means nothing, is comparable in terms of wow-gosh-gee factor than what I witnessed all day Tuesday on the Montreal streets and then in the Bell Center.
That said, boy, is this city going to be nervous the next couple of days.