THN at the Stanley Cup: The ultimate sacrifice

PITTSBURGH – The Penguins will try to pull off the Miracle at the Mellon tonight. That is, if they don’t kill each other first.

Assistant coach Mike Yeo was the latest victim of a Penguin-on-Penguin mishap, suffering a large gash on his chin when an errant Georges Laraque pass hit a teammate’s stick and deflected into Yeo’s face. The cut looked good for at least 20 stitches, according to Dr. Sidney Crosby in the Penguins dressing room.

While Yeo left to get stitched up, reporters huddled around Ryan Malone’s stall quizzing him about how he feels today, given the fact he suffered his second broken nose of the Stanley Cup final (to go with a chipped tooth and swollen lip) after taking a Hal Gill slap shot in the face in Game 5. Malone also broke his nose in Game 1 when he was lambasted by Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Truth be told, Malone ain’t lookin’ too pretty these days.

Remarkably, Malone barely missed any shifts in Game 5. He returned to action and continued to be a grinding, physical force.

After the game, Malone told The Hockey News he was lucky because the puck actually turned and hit flush with the flat side rather than with an edge.

“It’s called sacrifice,” said Penguins GM Ray Shero this morning. “We have it written on the wall in our dressing room and the guys know it takes sacrifice to win.”

The Penguins actually have it written in five different languages so that everybody on the team gets the message.

Even Shero is not exempt from taking a hit. Earlier this season while playing shinny, he was clipped on the chin by a high stick from former NHLer-turned-broadcaster Phil Bourque and now bears an inch-long scar as a reminder.

I will say, having covered many Stanley Cup finals, I am constantly amazed at the physical and mental toll NHL players endure at this time of year. I’m so tired I feel like I could sleep for a week and here these guys are playing triple overtime and then reporting to the rink for work the next day, not to mention facing hordes of media.

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A guy like Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who was driven face first into the boards in Game 5, sits out about 60 minutes and then helps set up the overtime winner. Unbelievable! If this were the regular season, he surely would have shut it down for the night immediately after being hit. Turns out he had muscle spasms and when they calmed down, he was ready for action.

• NHL referees are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. While they don’t like the idea of calling goalie interference in overtime, let alone twice in extra time, they also don’t relish the idea of a goalie being hit by an opponent and the winning goal being scored while the fallen goaltender is unable to do his job. It is a discretionary call.

“We don’t want the Stanley Cup-winning goal being scored with the goalie on his back after being crashed into,” said NHL executive Kris King.

The Red Wings were rightfully ticked off about the two calls against them, but you just know if the skate was on the other foot and Chris Osgood had been bumped rather than Marc-Andre Fleury, resulting in a goal by the Penguins, Detroit would be screaming bloody murder.

The more controversial of the two was on Dan Cleary, who courageously drove to the net looking to win it for his team and become the first player from Newfoundland to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. You would be hard-pressed to find anybody in the rink who thought his motive was to wipe out Fleury, but the call was made nonetheless.

Frankly, I would have been happier if the referee stopped play to see if Fleury was OK and didn’t penalize Cleary.

THN senior writer Mike Brophy is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read his other entries, click HERE.

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