PITTSBURGH – Jordan Staal had more ice time than Sidney Crosby and just slightly less than Evgeni Malkin in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.
He might want to frame the game sheet, because that certainly isn’t going to happen often.
Staal might be the best No. 3 center in the league, but the difference is that, barring a stunning turn of events, he will never, ever usurp Nos. 1 and 2, no matter how good he is. Staal knows he would be the No. 1 guy on a lot of teams in this league, but the problem is those teams are sitting at home or on a beach somewhere instead of preparing for the game of their lives.
“I obviously wouldn’t trade my spot for anything considering the way this team comes together and the way we play,” Staal said. “It’s fun to win games. It’s fun to go out and play hard with a team that has so much character. It’s a lot of fun with the guys in the (dressing) room as well. So I wouldn’t trade my spot for anything.”
The fact Staal played 19:31 in Game 6 compared to 17:54 for Crosby had some conspiracy theorists – OK, me – speculating whether or not Crosby is playing with an injury. But most of that disparity was accounted for in penalty-killing time for Staal.
But it was interesting to note that after so much was made of Henrik Zetterberg shutting Crosby down, Staal turned the tables by doing much the same to Zetterberg in Pittsburgh.
“The last shift of the game he had come off and was tired and red-faced and probably shouldn’t have gone back out there,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “But he stood up on the end of the bench and said he wanted to go out there, so we put him out there. And that’s what you want from players.”
Despite the fact Staal was fatigued and it was a crucial point of the game, Bylsma played a hunch Staal would be up to the task of shutting the Red Wings down one last time.
“It’s obviously a challenge to play against that line,” Staal said. “And obviously I was feeling pretty confident (Tuesday) night that we could get the job done. I was just looking at the coach to hopefully get the nod to get out there.”
The whole dynamic of playing behind two superstars puts Staal in something of an interesting position. Game 6 notwithstanding, he generally doesn’t get the ice time commensurate with his abilities. Coupled with his two-way role on this team, that also means he doesn’t get the kind of sexy offensive numbers he might otherwise be able to attain. And that means it almost certainly hits him right in the pocketbook.
Beginning next season, Staal will make an average of $4.7 million a year less than Crosby and Malkin and there’s little doubt Staal took a haircut both in terms of salary and prominence when he signed a four-year extension. But while the Penguins were able to buy-out years of unrestricted free agency for both Crosby and Malkin, Staal did not want to go any more than four years on his deal, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2013, roughly two months before his 25th birthday.
“We’re all confident in Jordan’s abilities,” said Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi. “He’s got a lot of offensive talent, but at the same time he’s a very responsible two-way forward. May not be the favorite label that any forward wants, but it’s something you need at this time of the year.”
The Penguin players are sporting T-shirts through this playoff run that read, “The Pens in our Hands.”
It basically plays on the Penguins nickname, while pointing out they have a chance to write their own history. It’s just, with all those millionaires in the room, you’d think somebody could have sprung for the apostrophe.
Someone tried to get Red Wings coach Mike Babcock to talk about how miserable it was when his Mighty Ducks of Anaheim lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in 2003, but Babcock had an interesting perspective on it.
“It was a great summer,” Babcock said. “Once again, you (media) guys obviously think way different than me. You understand they don’t just give us a ticket to come here like you (media) guys. We’ve got to earn it. Now do we want to win? Absolutely. Is the summer better if you win than if you lose? No question about it. But I’d say there are 28 teams sitting at home that would just love to be having this opportunity.”
Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final has gone to overtime only twice in NHL history. The Red Wings were involved both times and won both times on home ice.
They defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 in double overtime in 1950 and the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in overtime four years later. In that game, a harmless Tony Leswick dump-in deflected off Hall of Fame defenseman Doug Harvey’s glove and past Canadiens goalie Gerry McNeil.
The Canadiens lost Game 7 in regulation time to the Red Wings the next year, then went on their record-setting run of five straight Stanley Cups.
THE HEAT IS GONE
Mighty nice of Dany Heatley to negotiate a six-year deal with a no-trade clause, only to get into a spat with the coach and ask for a trade out of town. Should tell all those potential trade partners what kind of a player they’ll be getting if they deal for Heatley.
(By the way, why do no-trade clauses work only in favor of the player? Oh yeah, must have something to do with how the league kicked the players’ butts in the last round of CBA negotiations.)
A lot of players would have tried a lot harder to find a solution to the situation or at least made more of an effort to play through it and make it work.
If Heatley wants to be dealt out of Ottawa, fine. In the long-term, the Senators will probably be the better for it. But Senators GM Bryan Murray should only do it if he can throw Heatley’s no-trade clause out the window.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
The Red Wings obviously have a lot of Stanley Cup experience, but very little Game 7 experience in the final. Coach Mike Babcock, defenseman Brian Rafalski and backup goalie Ty Conklin have all been involved in that situation, as have Penguins coach Dan Byslma (as a player), Petr Sykora and Ruslan Fedotenko for the Penguins.
“I’ve never done it before,” said Red Wings center Kris Draper. “We’ve played in some big games, no doubt…but never have I been in a situation like this where there’s so much on the line. And I’m excited about it.”
THN Shootout: Officiating in the Stanley Cup final
From the road in Pittsburgh, host Ken Campbell talks with THN editor in chief Jason Kay and writer Ryan Kennedy about the impact the referees have - and haven't had - on the championship series.
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com's regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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