Wednesday, June 10, 2009

We're Not Dead Yet!

These playoffs have reduced me to monosyllabic grunts, groans, yelps, and shrill exclamations. When I manage to even form words, it's usually just a player's name: Gronk! Sid! Brooks! You get the idea. Every now and again, I curse. But last night, there was one name I screamed more than any other: Scuds! Somebody much more articulate than I once wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-- Dylan Thomas.

Although it coulda been Rob Scuderi.

It wasn't so long ago in the spring of 2006 that the nicest thing I could say about Mr. Scuderi was, "um, he clears the puck well." He's not an offensive defenseman, like Sergei Gonchar, or even Kris Letang. He's not a body-blow delivery machine like Brooks Orpik, nor is he the humongous slab of humanity that we call the USS Hal Gill. But watching Scuderi's maturation from a mediocre player (sometimes even a liability) to a team leader who makes all the right plays at all the right times, has been one of the more surprising elements of this Penguins journey. He finished the regular season at +23, a remarkable stat for a purely defensive defenseman, and even more remarkable when you consider that, with the arrival of coach Dan Bylsma, Scuds was often deployed to blow up the opposition's best offensive unit.

He's had a tremendous run this post-season, too. He limited Alex Ovechkin. (You cannot entirely stop Ovie, merely limit him and Scuds made sure that Ovechkin never put his team so far ahead that the Pens offensive stars weren't within striking distance.) Then he contributed to the utter dismantling of Eric Staal, the Carolina Hurricane's number one offensive weapon.

But the Red Wings? The Red Wings are a different animal. They can attack from so many lines. If Henrik Zetterberg's not crashing the net, then it's over-grown ginger kid, Johan Franzen. Or Dan Cleary. Or Tomas Holmstrom, who parks himself in the Pens goal crease so much, he's starting to have his mail delivered there.

Last night, it looked like we might see more of the same kind of demoralizing, flukey, ugly scoring we saw in last year's Game 6 when Zetterberg put a puck in the crease that Marc-Andre Fleury accidentally knocked back into the goal with his own derriere. It was the game winner. I try to forget that the Wings' Stanley Cup winning shot was put in by the ass of the Pens net-minder, but Zetterberg clearly hasn't, and he was looking for a little deja vu last night when he dinged a shot off the goalpost that landed behind Fleury. Unlike last year, Zetterberg's shot remained harmlessly in the blue paint. As Fleury tried to move the puck forward, from his post alongside his netminder, Scuderi made one of the smarter plays we've seen all series, as he simply held his stick down on the ice behind Fleury to provide an extra layer of defense against potential errant puck dribblage. Zetterberg and the Red Wings were thus denied and I started to get the feeling that this Game 6 was going to be different.

All night, Scuderi was all around the goal mouth, on two crucial back-to-back penalty kills in the third period, and also scuttling a third-period Pavel Datsyuk rebound out of harm's way. The puck nestled just to the right of the net, just out of reach of Fleury, tantalizingly close to going in. It was precisely the sort of opportunity the Red Wings always seem to capitalize on in typically annoying fashion, except this time, Scuds was there to foil them.

Still, Scuderi saved his best heroics for last.

If you read the official play-by-play of the game, it reads simply: 19:43 - Johan Franzen shot blocked by Rob Scuderi.

And yeah, I guess you could say that. In the same way that you can describe Mt. Kilimanjaro as a big hill and Helen of Troy as okay looking. I guess you could also say that the Beatles were pretty popular once upon a time, too.

With the potentiality of a Game 7 hanging in the balance, Scuderi really was the piece, the most elemental, crucial piece of the puzzle necessary to block not one, not two, not three, but four attempts to stab the puck into net by the Red Wings, and all with Franzen's unappealing ass right in his face. Unlike Zetterberg's crafty move in Game 1 when he gloved a puck on Chris Osgood's back, Scuderi made all the stops with his stick, his leg and his skate, per the letter of the law. By the time the officials blew the whistle for a stoppage of play, 11 players were piled in net, with Scuds at the bottom, still keeping the puck from crossing the line.

There are blocked shots. And then there are blocked shots.

In the words of the inestimable Monty Python boys, 'We're not dead yet!'

1 comment:

  1. I can't wait for Friday. Neither can the dogs, who will have endured two months of grunts, snarls and expletives loud enough to send them scurrying, and it's not even football season.