Evgeni Malkin was widely, and understandably, criticized for kicking the legs out from under New York defenseman Paul Mara late in the Penguins' 3-0 loss in Game 4 of their second-round playoff series against the Rangers.
Yesterday, after the Penguins had clinched a place in the Eastern Conference final opposite Philadelphia with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 5 at Mellon Arena, Malkin accepted responsibility for what he had done to Mara.
"It was my fault," he said through interpreter George Birman. "I was pretty frustrated and upset the way the game was going. Absolutely, it was my fault."
Malkin scored the Penguins' second goal yesterday and finished the series with four goals and three assists.
Frank Buonomo, the Penguins' director of team services, did a lot of work to schedule a trip that the team never took. And he couldn't have been happier.
Because Game 6 of the series was set for tonight at Madison Square Garden in New York, Buonomo had to have the details of the team's visit worked out well in advance, in the event the Penguins lost yesterday.
That meant the airplane that would have taken them there was waiting at Pittsburgh International when Marian Hossa scored the series-winning goal. That the buses that would take them from the airport to their hotel were on order. That a block of rooms at their hotel had been reserved.
"You just have to prepare as if you're going," Buonomo said before the game. "Everything is on standby."
Mind you, being prepared came at a price. The Penguins expected to be assessed fees for calling off their flight to New York, and for giving up their hotel rooms on short notice.
Not that anyone is going to mind writing those checks.
"We'll take those cancellation fees," Buonomo said, "as opposed to going back to New York for Game 6."
Let the verbal sparring begin
There was a lot of verbal sparring on the ice -- and some off of it -- during the series, although the levels of that kind of byplay almost certainly will be ratcheted up when the Penguins and Flyers square off.
"It's going to be a spirited series, no question about that," Flyers coach John Stevens told the Camden (N.J.) Courier Post.
Surely, the Penguins will be reminded that some on the far side of the state -- including some in the Philadelphia locker room -- suggested they made a point of losing the regular-season finale to the Flyers so they wouldn't have to face Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs.
Flyers center Jeff Carter told reporters after that game that, "Maybe they're scared of us, I don't know," while winger Riley Cote said, "It's almost like they threw the game."
Stevens didn't accuse the Penguins of that yesterday, but did make a lightly veiled reference to charges that Crosby exaggerates infractions by opposing players. Accusations that have their roots at the Wachovia Center.
"I think the league has done a good job in terms of calling embellishing," Stevens said. "Some penalties are going to be taken in a hockey game. If they are physical penalties or ones that come from driving to the net, we can live with those."
Talbot's status unknown
Penguins center Max Talbot missed his second consecutive game because of a broken right foot. Talbot, who was injured when he blocked a shot in Game 3, did not participate in the pregame warm-ups.
His status for the start of the Eastern Conference final is not known.
The Penguins other scratches were, as usual, forwards Kris Beech and Jeff Taffe, defensemen Mark Eaton (knee) and Darryl Sydor and goalie Dany Sabourin.
New York coach Tom Renney said the Penguins "won the series, fair and square," and suggested they have a reasonably good opportunity of reaching the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1992.
"There's a lot to be said for winning a series and feeling good about yourself, and confidence is so much a part of winning hockey at any time, never mind the playoffs," he said.
"I think they have a very good chance, if they stay disciplined and get the goaltending, to come out of the East."
One somewhat overlooked aspect of Philadelphia's second-round upset of Montreal: There are no Canadian teams left in the playoffs. No team based in that country has won a Cup since the Canadiens in 1993. ... Renney, on having the Rangers' season end: "It's tough to swallow. It's as simple as that. We wanted to keep playing and we thought we were starting to play our best hockey, at least in the playoffs."