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IN A SEEMINGLY PIVOTAL GAME OF THEIR PLAYOFFS, the Penguins won the battle of wounded knee—courtesy of Sergei Gonchar.
You probably know somebody like Gonchar, at least from the movies. He is the cowboy in a Western who bites a bullet while some quack sawbones yanks a slug out of his leg. The defenseman was playing with a right knee so badly damaged that a surgeon with a scalpel—or, if Gonchar is as tough as he appears, a Bowie knife—was set to operate the moment that the Stanley Cup finals concluded.
Gonchar, victim of a knee-on-knee drive-by courtesy of Alex Ovechkin in Game 4 of the conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals that probably should have knocked him out of the playoffs, scored on a screened power-play slapper that proved to be the winner in the 4-2 Penguins victory.
Gonchar's goal at 10:29 of the third, coming after Fleury had survived a two-period, 26-shot onslaught by the dominant Red Wings, had—for the moment, at least—saved the Penguins' season.
THE DÉJÀ VU STANLEY Cup finals became Must-See TV.
After following the script of the 2008 series, the near-rerun was replaced by a 2½-hour spectacular (with a second period for the ages) that was wildly entertaining and raucous. Playing for the fourth time in six nights, a hellish pace for midseason let alone the NHL's showcase event, the Penguins broke the old pattern and seemingly left the Red Wings' legendary poise in tatters with a 4-2 win.
And though Fleury (37 saves) was brilliant for the Penguins, the match truly belonged to The Three Centers.
Malkin. In the past Malkin's performance in the playoffs has faded in and out like a bad cellphone connection. Can you hear him now? He opened the game by drawing a penalty and then scored a power-play goal with a poke on a rebound off the boards.
But Malkin was merely revving his engine. After taking a moronic hooking penalty five feet from Osgood in the second—the first of successive penalties that forced the Penguins to play shorthanded for the next 3:59—he would more than make amends. With the score tied 2-2 some three minutes after his penalty-box shame, Malkin picked Stuart's pocket at Detroit's right point and burst out on a two-on-one with Crosby. On occasion Bylsma had used the two centers on the same line, and there was no more serendipitous time than this one. Malkin drove down the right flank and Crosby down the left, leaving elongated Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson as the monkey in the middle. Malkin's first pass hit the defenseman, but Malkin gathered the puck and this time feathered one to Crosby, who had a tap-in goal, his first of the finals.