Great guy, the Penguins call veteran winger Miroslav Satan. Great team guy, they say of him because of the way he hung in through a demotion to the minor leagues in March for the chance -- just the chance -- to help their hockey club's cause in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Still a great player, the Penguins insist about Satan. A significant contributor to their march to within two wins of the Cup final, they say of him because of the goals he set up in three wins in the Washington series and the goal he scored in a 3-2 win against Carolina in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Monday night.
But all that said, there's no question the Penguins look at Satan a little differently today than they did before Game 2 Thursday night.
"He certainly gained a bit of respect in our locker room for the way he handled himself at the end of the game," coach Dan Bylsma said yesterday.
You know, by wailing away at the Hurricanes' Patrick Eaves.
The Penguins had their 7-4 win all but wrapped up in the final two minutes when Carolina forward Ryan Bayda received a match penalty for elbowing and then cross-checking defenseman Kris Letang in the mouth. The predictable chaos followed. The next thing anyone knew, Satan was firing punches at Eaves as if he were Mike Tyson.
It hardly would have been more shocking if Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin had resorted to such pugilism.
"I didn't do it so much for the team. I did it more for myself," Satan said yesterday over his cell phone while on his way to the airport for the team's afternoon flight to Raleigh, N.C., and Game 3 tonight. "[Eaves] took a free punch at me. I felt I didn't have a choice."
Clearly, Satan's coach and teammates couldn't be more appreciative.
You have to understand the hockey mentality. Hockey people are convinced a well-timed fight can be just as valuable to a team as a Crosby or Malkin goal or a big save by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins will tell you winger Max Talbot's one-sided fight with Philadelphia's Daniel Carcillo -- one-sided in Carcillo's favor -- in Game 6 of the first round was the spark they needed to come back from a 3-0 deficit to get a series-clinching 5-3 win. They'll also tell you that Satan's fight with Eaves will have a lasting impact on the rest of the Carolina series.
"The other guys saw [Bayda's] cross-check, and they came running. I appreciate that support from my teammates," said Letang, who ended up holding his own in a subsequent fight with defenseman Tim Gleason, one of the Hurricanes' tougher characters.
"I think it's great," Crosby said. "You don't want to get involved too much in that stuff. That's energy you don't want to waste. But there are times when you have to be willing to stand up for each other."
"Team toughness is sticking together," Bylsma said. "I think we did a good job of that."
Added Satan: "It was 7-4, and they were looking to send a message. I think we handled it pretty well."
When told that he scored some seriously big points inside the team room, Satan seemed almost embarrassed. "I'm just glad they're all getting to know me a little bit," he said, quietly.
What the Penguins have learned about Satan is that he's no quitter. He had every reason to bail on the team and head home to Slovakia when he was sent to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to clear salary-cap room for newly acquired winger Bill Guerin. But he didn't. The Penguins are thrilled that he didn't.
"Miro deserves all the credit in the world," said general manager Ray Shero, who gave Satan a one-year, $3.5 million contract before this season.
Said Satan: "I signed with this team to be in the playoffs. And here I am, in the playoffs."
Just two wins from the Cup final.
"Any way I can contribute to the team is good," Satan said.
All players say that at this crucial point of the season.
Satan really means it.
His bruised knuckles are the proof.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com.