Hard work? It's in the Penguins' stars
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When it finally ended late yesterday afternoon, after 67 minutes, 10 seconds of tough, physical, tense playoff hockey, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik showed remarkable stamina by making it from his locker to the team refrigerator and a precious energy drink.
Hey, it was all the way across the room.
"It's not supposed to be easy," someone said to Orpik after the Penguins needed overtime to close down the New York Rangers for the summer, winning Game 5 of their playoff hostilities, 3-2.
"It isn't?" asked grinning team owner Mario Lemieux as he passed by on his way to shake a few more hands.
"Maybe for you it was easy. Not for the rest of us," Orpik told the great Lemieux.
This throbbing win, which set off a raucous Mellon Arena celebration and nudged the Penguins into the Eastern Conference final later this week against the hated Philadelphia Flyers, will go down in team lore as the overtime thriller that ended in a New York instant when sniper Marian Hossa's dead-on shot found the back of the Rangers' net behind fabulous goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. But there was so much more to it than that goal and an earlier one by Hossa and even another out-of-this-world goal by Evgeni Malkin, your Conn Smythe Trophy favorite at the halfway point of these Stanley Cup playoffs.
Mostly, there was hard work.
From the Penguins' role players, sure.
But -- and this is really important, so write it down -- from the team's stars.
"It's not so much about skill in the playoffs," wise winger Pascal Dupuis said. "It's about effort. When your franchise players are working as hard or even harder than the role players, you're going to win."
So it was for this bunch of flightless birds.
Much of the extraordinary effort came from the Penguins' penalty-killers, every bit the heroes against the Rangers that Malkin, Hossa, Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury were. Take a bow, Ryan Malone, Jordan Staal, Adam Hall and Mr. Dupuis. Step right on up onto the stage with them, Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Sergei Gonchar and Mr. Orpik. Those fellas never gave the Rangers a chance. The New York power play went 0 for 4 with one shot in this game, a dull 3 for 25 in the series.
We're talking off the charts.
"Guys are paying the price because they want to win so bad," Dupuis said. "They're blocking shots. They're getting in the shooting lanes. And when the puck does get through to the net, we've got a wall in front of it. Marc-Andre is playing unbelievably right now."
Penguins general manager Ray Shero's deal for Hossa at the February trade deadline was celebrated long into the night all over the city, but how about picking up Dupuis in the package? And what about the trade for Gill? "His stick is everywhere," Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said of Gill. "He just breaks up play after play."
Killing penalties -- actually, playing defense in general -- is largely about want to. These Penguins clearly want to. It was no accident that the Rangers had four shots in the first minute yesterday, then just three the rest of the first period. Or that they had a total of four -- count 'em, four -- in the second period, none in the final 14 minutes, 50 seconds. Or that they didn't have a single shot in overtime.
"It's pretty good to know we can clamp down like that," Whitney said. "People don't think of us as a defensive team. We're proving we are one."
Don't underestimate the stars' impact in that.
Hossa is the best two-way player on the team right now, just as reliable in the defensive zone as he is when he has the puck trying to torture goalies. "He's a special player," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said with obvious appreciation. "He doesn't cheat out there."
Throw in Crosby, the team's hardest worker on the ice, in practice, in the weight room, on the stationary bike ...
You get the idea.
And add Malkin, whose energy seems boundless. Was he all over the ice yesterday or what?
Stars aren't stars merely because they have terrific talent.
These stars are stars because they work for what they get.
Two examples from yesterday:
Hossa scored the Penguins' first goal, but that was the easy part after a wonderful pass from Malone. The hard part was keeping the puck in the Rangers' zone, which Hossa did with an all-out dive a few moments earlier. "You don't see superstars diving for the puck like that very often," Whitney marveled.
Malkin scored the second goal because he refused to quit on the puck. After he tried to split Rangers defensemen Paul Mara and Marc Staal in front of Lundqvist, the puck was nudged slowly back up ice. Malkin stopped on a dime, changed direction and pounced on the puck before firing a backhander by the stunned Lundqvist.
It's no wonder Lemieux was grinning so much on his handshake tour.
The boys are giving him his money's worth this spring.
"We deserved to win that game," Therrien said. "We deserved to win this series."
It's worth saying again.
First Published May 5, 2008 12:00 am