Morning Skate 214: Lemieux in tough spot to talk

191545.jpg

Morning Skate 214: Lemieux in tough spot to talk

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

PHILADELPHIA Life in the NHL certainly isnt boring.Within the last week, a pair of games filled with fights, hate and blood boiling on the ice grabbed everybodys attention with the second one garnering nearly double the penalty minutes of the BruinsCanadiens tilt and crossing the line from tough hockey over into thuggery. The New York Islanders embarrassed themselves, plain and simple, and guys like Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin and Michael Haley werent looking to make plays or win a hockey game. That trio of meatheads was looking to intimate, hurt and get even with the Pittsburgh Penguins after Brent Johnson had broken Ricky DiPietros face in the game leading up to that rematch.Their actions were as filled with ill intent as you can get on the ice, and they deserved to have the book thrown at them with the lack of mercy that Cobra Kai was famous for. So they deserved to get the book thrown at them, as did Eric Godard for leaving the bench in an understandable move that the Pittsburgh enforcer knew was going to cost him in the wallet.Somewhat predictably there was unrest in Pittsburgh that the punishment wasnt severe enough to fit the crime, and it prompted Pens owner Mario Lemieux to fire out the infrequent-but-weighty missives hes become known for now that his Hall of Fame playing career is over.Lemieux said in a release: "Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be," the Penguins owner and Hall of Famer said in a statement released by the team. "But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that."The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed."There are even those within the Bruins dressing room that wholeheartedly agreed with Lemieux, including former teammate and future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi, who has seen plenty in his 20-plus years in the NHL and recognizes the kind of gong show incidents that need to be dealt with swiftly and decisively."Good for Lemieux," veteran Bruins player Mark Recchi told CSNNE.com. " I'm glad he said it because the NHL sanctions weren't strong enough. Not even close.That was completely premeditated by the Islanders and theres no place for that.So on many levels Lemieux is correct to intervene on behalf of all players, but more specifically his Penguins players that hes clearly looking out for. But theres no denying the hypocrisy that Andrew Ference wisely avoided in this entire debate when he simply spoke the truth about Daniel Pailles hit against the Dallas Stars.Its a charge that the great Super Mario cant avoid because he forked over a wheel barrel of cash to re-sign Matt Cooke this summer after the Pittsburgh hatchet man became a free agent. Cooke was fresh off the Marc Savard cheap shot elbow that has him reviled around the NHL, and especially in Boston, and Lemieux could have made a statement against that type of cheap hockey.But he decided to keep his deal with Pittsburghs own little hockey devil going, and put the safety of every other player in the NHL at risk by encouraging Cooke to continue attempting to end the careers of players as hes potentially done with Savard after last March.That decision was as wrong as they come, and is in complete contrast to every word Lemieux uttered in the wake of fight night at Nassau Coliseum. Nobody is going to care one whit if a hockey great like Lemieux pipes up simply when something is happening in his own backyard as opposed to across the league.Do us a favor, Mario, and sit out the next shift on the ice when your team is treated unfairly because everything that took place with your own team hatchet man last season was the pure definition of the term unfair.On to the links: An interesting look at NHLplayer Mike Rupp, and the simple philosophical differences between one hockey player and a monstrous entity like the NFL. A good even-handed take on the Lemieux statement by USA Todays Kevin Allen as opposed to the two-hander I just tossed at Super Marios ankles. Friend of Haggs (FOH) Rob Simpson has a lot of thoughts over at MSG.com and Im always glad when he shares them with me. Michael Russo takes issue with Lemieuxs statement on VERSUS.comand comes up with a similar verdict as I did: guilt by hypocrisy. Ryan Miller once again shows that he is both very thin and very thin-skinned when the going gets tough for him. Apparently the big, though Sabres media was too hard on him after his 31st straight start for Buffalo. Rick Nash and Steve Mason are slowly dragging the Blue Jackets back into the playoff picture. The question is whether its too late. A good look by Andy Strickland at potential NHL lottery pick Ryan Murphy at truesports.com.Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

penguins_guentzel_052917.jpg

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Morning Skate: No surprise cheap-shot artists are running wild

cp_morning_skate-.jpg

Morning Skate: No surprise cheap-shot artists are running wild

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while hoping everybody on this Memorial Day takes some time to appreciate all of those that made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom. We should also take a moment to say thanks to people like the three heroes in Oregon that stood up to a hateful bigot earlier this week, and in doing so reaffirmed what the majority of people living in the US believe we are all about while trying to live up to that ideal every day.
 
-- A number of NHL legends are shaking their heads at the dirty play that we’re seeing in these playoffs, particularly those plays targeting the superstars that people pay big money to see in the postseason. Why should anybody be shocked by this? The rooting out of enforcers, and fighting, has taken accountability out of the game for the cheap-shot artists and dirty players, and leaves little real deterrant for players looking to take out opponents with dangerous plays. I wrote about this a couple of years ago when the NHL threw the book at Shawn Thornton for going after Brooks Orpik, and in doing so chose to protect somebody trying to hurt opponents (Orpik) and punish somebody trying to protect his teammates (Thornton). It was a sea change for the league, and something players didn’t forget as more and more enforcers were quickly weeded out of the NHL. This is what the rule-makers and legislators wanted, and now it’s what they’re getting just a couple of years later with dangerous stick-work, cheap shots and a general lack of respect for fellow players.
 
-- Here's why the Tampa Bay Lightning would consider trading a player like Jonathan Drouin, and the major impact that could have on the offseason trade market.
 
-- Down Goes Brown has a Stanley Cup Final rooting guide for the other 28 other fan bases now that Nashville and Pittsburgh are in the final series.

-- So which goaltender has the edge in the Stanley Cup Final: Nashville's Pekka Rinne, or Pittsburgh's two-headed monster of Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury?
 
-- Scotty Bowman says winning back-to-back Stanley Cup titles has become monumentally difficult since the advent of the salary cap.
 
-- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are pushing each other to be betters, and showing exactly how a team should be led by its superstars in the salary-cap era for the league.
 
-- For something completely different: We can confirm through this report that a lot of hot dogs are eaten in the summertime. So glad we have people to research these kinds of things.