From the Bottom Up, Pens Winning From the Heart
After the Penguins were called for a questionable penalty late in the second period of Game 2, the Mellon Arena AV crew came up with a real gem. With the crowd hissing and booing the call, a sweaty, disheveled man in a tan overcoat appeared on the Jumbotron. His eyes darted frantically and his hands flailed. He was manic. He was angry. At the height of his tirade, he got up out of his chair, raised his arms to the sky and yelled…
“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
Peter Finch’s Academy Award-winning outburst from the 1976 film Network brought the 17,128 fans at Mellon Arena to their feet. Towels whipped. Fans turned to the guy or girl next to them and gave them the look – that telepathic nod that says, “let’s blow the roof off of this place.”
The Network clip was a masterpiece of crowd manipulation.
Communist regulations probably blocked Network from being released in Jacovce, Slovakia, where Penguins winger Miroslav Satan grew up, but I can just imagine him sitting on the Penguins’ bench watching Finch’s hysterical tirade and sympathetically nodding his head.
Since filling in for Petr Sykora midway through the playoffs, Satan has made a significant impact. He has five points in his last five games – an incredible contribution from a fourth line player.
Satan’s early breakaway goal ignited the Penguins to victory in Game 1 and left the supposedly impenetrable Cam Ward thoroughly pants-less. Last night, his most important contribution didn’t come from his stick, but his fists.
The beleaguered sniper, widely labeled as “too soft” to be a significant playoff performer, had previously dropped the gloves only twice in his NHL career. But when a scrum broke out at the end of Game 2, Satan took a cheap shot from the Hurricanes’ Patrick Eaves, and he was simply not gonna’ to take it anymore.
After being hip-tossed by Eaves and punched in the face, Satan could have done what many non-fighters would have done when outmatched and off-balance – he could have curled up into a ball and turtled. The Miroslav Satan of four months ago might have hit the deck, but something has changed inside Satan since head coach Dan Bylsma took the reins.
When the Pens demoted Satan to the minors in March, he had to clear waivers first – meaning another NHL team could pick up the two-time all-star for half price. No team was interested. Seemingly everyone had given up on the 34-year-old winger, and he packed his bags for Scranton, where he played 10 games for the Penguins’ minor league affiliate.
It was quite an emotional challenge. Satan started the season as Crosby’s new go-to winger, but in the dregs of winter, away from his wife and three-year-old son, he was playing in front of 7,000 people a night. Most Penguins fans were happy to see him go and justifiably bitter about his $3.5 million a year contract. Their argument was solid: other players, like Max Talbot, work twice as hard with half as much talent as Satan, yet get paid half his salary.
Satan was guarded – almost aloof – with reporters. If Tom Barrasso and Kordell Stewart have taught us anything, it’s that this town doesn’t take well to that kind of personality trait, win or lose. Penguins fans thought Satan was lazy and didn’t care about the team.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Fom all accounts, Satan was a model citizen in Scranton – even taking teammates out to dinner and giving them advice about how to handle the grind of playing full-time in the NHL. Instead of taking the rest of the reason off and then fleeing for the comforts of a European league where he would again be treated like a king, Satan kept working hard in northern Pennsylvania.
“What happened, happened…so I tried to make the best of it, Satan said. “It’s an approach that works in life, also.”
Satan’s perseverance paid off, and he was called up to the Penguins’ Stanley Cup roster. When Sykora looked ineffective due to a lingering shoulder injury, Bylsma turned to Satan to fill an unusual role: fourth line duty.
That’s why he found himself on the ice with two minutes remaining in Game 2 with the Pens holding on to a comfortable three goal lead. The lanky goalscorer was on grunt duty. Bylsma knew the Hurricanes’ goons would be looking for cheap shots, and sure enough, the cheap shots came raining down.
Kris Letang took a cross-check to the mush after a whistle. Ding ding ding. Seconds later, gloves were flying and sweaters were being ruffled. Satan wasn’t even involved in the initial scrum – he was down the ice and came in late. But when he saw the Hurricanes taking the extra-curricular activities over the line, some switch flipped deep inside Satan, and he completely lost it. Click here to watch the video.
This was the result.
Satan’s instinctive reaction speaks volumes about the leadership of Sydney Crosby, the strength of the Penguins’ locker room and the effect that Bylsma’s positive energy has had on the team.
The evidence is everywhere – from the bench’s over-the-top reaction after goals from struggling players, to Chris Kunitz’s leap into Bill Guerin’s outstretched arms after his go-ahead goal in Game 2, to the myriad of Grade-A nicknames that the players have for one another (my favorite: Hal “Skills” Gill).
When Satan was being led to the locker room after his brawl with Eaves? Every single player on the Penguins bench was on their feet, tapping their sticks against the boards in a show of respect. Not all teams share that kind of camaraderie.
Two months ago, before the start of the playoffs, I said it, and I will say it once again – forget Hossa, the Penguins are tougher, grittier and more resilient this season. That’s the real stuff of champions. Raw talent will take you a long way, but as with the case of Miroslav Satan – in the end, you need a lot of heart to get to the top of the mountain.
Heart? Yep, I’m looking at you, Jack. We’re coming for ‘ya.
Enjoy Game 3 this weekend, and stay tuned for Episode 2 of The Burgh Show podcast on Monday. As a special Memory Day treat, Pulling No Punches presents you with this these glorious images from Game 2…
A Peter Taglianetti Jersey? I’m speechless. Only in Pittsburgh. Go Pens.