Cook: Talbot hero for a night after return

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You see a lot of blood and broken bones in the Stanley Cup playoffs but very few cute moments.

Well, there was a priceless moment after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Friday night between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Penguins center Max Talbot, who missed the game because of a broken bone in his right foot, was strolling out into the night through the bowels of Mellon Arena after the Penguins' win when he noticed the podium that the NHL uses for its news conferences. The next thing you know, Talbot and his parents -- Serge and Lucie -- were sitting behind the microphones, all of 'em grinning from ear-to-ear, conducting an imaginary interview and posing for pictures.

For one night, anyway, Talbot was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoffs MVP.

Oh, to dream big.

Who could have guessed that Talbot -- role player extraordinaire -- would deserve to be on the podium that's normally reserved for the Sidney Crosbys, Evgeni Malkins and Marc-Andre Fleurys just two nights later?

Yes, Mad Max was the Penguins' hero last night after returning to the lineup after sitting out three games because of his injury from Game 3 of the New York Rangers series.

Talbot's goal with little more than 11 minutes to play didn't just break the Flyers' hearts and hold up as the winner in the Penguins' 4-2 victory at raucous Mellon Arena. It gave your favorite team a 2-0 lead in the series with Game 3 in Philadelphia tomorrow night.

"Now I can say I did it. I could stop playing tomorrow and say I scored a game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs," Talbot said with that same big smile.

Penguins coach Michel Therrien decided Talbot was healthy enough to play after the morning skate yesterday.

In one sense, it wasn't exactly a surprising call to use Talbot and sit Adam Hall, who played well as Talbot's replacement. "Max is a little warrior. I know what I'm going to get every night from Maxime Talbot," Therrien said.

But in another sense, the move to go back with Talbot was a little surprising. Therrien hates to change the lineup when his team is winning.

Don't think Talbot isn't aware of how his coach operates.

"Yes, I thought about that," he said. "I was really low when I got hurt. I was down. I was frustrated. Am I ever going to get back out there?

"It's never good to see a player who doesn't deserve to come out have to come out. Adam Hall played really well and I feel bad he was out. The other way, though, I just thought, well, I'll do what I can to help us win."

Talbot did plenty.

He rewarded Therrien by taking a beautiful pass from winger Gary Roberts and banging it by Flyers goaltender Martin Biron.

"I called for it," Talbot said. "I knew I was by myself. Gary made a great play. I'm not sure Biron ever saw it because it happened so quick."

The Penguins will tell you the goal was poetic justice because they had a controversial no-goal call go against them in the second period. It appeared a shot by defenseman Sergei Gonchar that bounced off Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher snuck inside Biron's left post and crossed the goal line. But the call on the ice was no goal and replays -- at least according to the NHL -- weren't conclusive enough to rule it a goal that would have given the Penguins a 2-0 lead.

No matter.

The surprisingly resilient Flyers played a strong game, every bit the Penguins' equal after going down fairly quietly in that Game 1 loss. Most impressive was that they did it without their top two defensemen, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn. Timonen -- probably their best player -- is out for the series because of a blood clot problem. Coburn went out in the first two minutes last night when he was struck in the face by a puck that left him gushing blood on the ice.

There's that blood I was talking about in the playoffs.

It was a gruesome sight.

A lesser team wouldn't have played with such heart. The Flyers fought back to tie the score, 1-1, and then, 2-2, but it wasn't enough.

Talbot made sure of that.

Dreams really do come true.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com


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