For the vast majority of the NHL season, column writers Jay and I are on pretty good terms, following the action, dividing the writing, and commenting on the league’s many stories, players, and events. But for a few nights each season, the fellowship must be broken. And this week, it was rendered asunder for two straight days.
Why? Because his Toronto Maple Leafs and my Pittsburgh Penguins met for a rare back-to-back series, one at each team’s arena. This is the account of those two dark nights, which we both followed and commented on in real time as the games began:
Steve: Round two. Looks like Reimer is in instead of The Monster tonight, and Pens will be going for Johnson, snapping Fleury’s 23 game playing streak. So we have an entirely different goalie battle to look forward to.
Jay: Yeah, I figured Reimer would start. The Leafs are hoping he can regain his form. Wonder if this will be a tighter game with the backups in net?
Steve: Johnson can have moments of greatness, but if Pens expect him to stand on his head like Fleury last night, it’s going to get out of hand quickly. They’ll need to be on their game early and find some way to match the Leafs in speed.
Jay: Leafs also get J-M Liles and Colby Armstrong back after long absences, so a bit of a different look tonight in addition to the goalie.
Steve: Ouch, hearing the recap of Johnson’s last two outings doesn’t fill me with hope. Pucks dropped. Here we go.
A surprising early penalty gives the Penguins an early chance at the power play.
Steve: Wow. Leafs went almost the whole game yesterday without a penalty. Can the Leafs PK hold strong again? (and also after the penalty this time?)
Nothing comes of the chance, and soon it’s the Leaf’s turn to try at the power play.
Jay: A dumb penalty for each team but no damage.
Steve: Definitely a better start for the Pens. Leafs aren’t controlling the flow as much as they were yesterday.
Jay: Much slower pace to this one.
Steve: For sure. The two goalies seem to be settling in, though. After last night, we kind of had to expect a slight slackening in pace, at least early on.
A few minutes later, Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang takes a stick to the face, but no penalty is called. Jay and I differ in our interpretation.
Steve: Letang’s pretty bloodied up after that hit. Looks like Leafs got away with a double minor high sticking. That’s how she breaks sometimes.
Jay: Orpik pushed Kessel into him. Nice pressure by Grabovski line.
After one period, it’s another scoreless affair.
Steve: Some good chances for both teams, but Reimer and Johnson both hold strong through one.
Jay: Leafs have picked up the pace. Damn, big hit by Letang on Grabovski. No score after one.
The Leafs come out strong in the second period, but can’t seem to catch a break. Moments later, it looks like the Penguins have the first tally of the night, but it goes to review.
Jay: Kunitz kicked it in. No goal.
Steve: No real surprise there, though it’s a bummer. Hope Pens can carry that momentum.
For the second game in a row, Leafs carry the edge in shots on goal. A dubious hit from Penguins Matt Cooke leads to a bit of a disagreement over his play.
Jay: Getting chippy. I’m sorry, Matt Cooke is a despicable POS.
Steve: I love him, but I won’t lie: he can get mighty dirty.
Malkin takes a dumb penalty, and the on-ice atmosphere continues to intensify. The Penguins and Leafs continue to see chances, but have a hard time getting shots on net.
Steve: If I had a dollar for every shot that’s gone over of wide of the net this game… well, I’d have a fair number of dollars.
Jay: Lots of chances, nothing doing so far. But that could change quickly.
Another period, another scoreless affair. Compared to last night’s 5-4 goal-fest, this one’s a tighter, more nerve wracking affair.
Steve: Two down. Johnson and Reimer have been surprisingly solid tonight. Someone’s going to break this baby open in the third, though. I can feel it.
Jay: Yeah, I agree. Once a goal finally goes in, I expect the floodgates to open and things to get crazy.
Some big hits lead to a Penguins power play, and a possible turning point in the game. Can Toronto’s once struggling PK hold strong?
Jay: Big power play for the Pens.
Steve: Toronto has turned over a new “Leaf” for their PK since the New Year. Thank you. Thank you…
Jay: Ouch. But yeah, the PK was brutal until last month.
Another penalty leads to yet another power play, this time for the Leafs. Stephen isn’t happy with the call.
Steve: Not sold on that penalty call, but huge break away by Grabovski, and now a huge power play for the Leafs.
Jay: Short of a beheading, that should be it for penalties.
It’s 53 minutes in, and still no goals.
Jay: Scoreless with less than 7 minutes to go. About as different from last night as you can get.
Pens miss yet another chance off the crossbar, and Toronto’s Clark MacArthur rushes up the ice.
Steve: A near miss by the Pens, and a bullet by MacArthur. There’s the goal the Leafs were looking for.
Jay: WOO HOOOOOO! MacArthur with a sweet goal. 1-0 Leafs.
Down a goal, Penguins fall victim to a pretty iffy call by the refs and find themselves on the penalty king once again.
Jay: Oh boy. Another PP for Toronto. This is huge. Soft call by the ref. Surprised.
Steve: No argument there. Pens need to at least kill this thing. A short hander would be better.
Jay: Armstrong almost snuck that one in.
Steve: Johnson thankfully snuffs it out. You can’t fault his performance tonight. Pens are killing themselves with these (admittedly close) offside calls.
The final minute comes, and the Penguins have one last chance for a second comeback.
Jay: Time out with 36 seconds left. Nervous.
It’s a mirror image of last night, with a strong final Penguins push. But the outcome is different.
Steve: Heart breaker for the Pens, but you can’t argue with the outcome. MacArthur earned that sole goal, and Reimer played lights out.
Jay: Phew! Big win for the Leafs. Pens hit three posts.
Steve: They split the series, but the Leafs get the edge in points (3 to 2). Good series for both teams, though.
Jay: Although Toronto should have won last night and Pittsburgh should have won tonight. Who knows, maybe they’ll meet again in the playoffs?
Steve: They meet once more this season, at least. And the win guarantees the Leafs stay in the top 8 for now. They look like a playoff team, especially with the PK finally fixed. It was fun following the series with you, Jay.
Jay: Definitely fun. We’ll have to do it again from time to time. Maybe in the playoffs, when things really get tense.