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Penguins

“Puck Talk With Popchock” – Pens, NHL Win By A Nose

Penguins celebrate in Montreal Saturday

The Penguins celebrate Kris Letang’s overtime goal in Montreal Saturday night. Letang scored several minutes after his nose had been broken. (Photo credit: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

Good things don’t usually happen when you stick your nose in other people’s business. As for when other people stick their business in your nose, well, that’s another story.

Part of why I love the National Hockey League is its unpredictability. After all, who knew, just days after Sidney Crosby completed ten months of rehabilitation for a concussion, that one of his teammates would become just as famous for another upper body part?

Furthermore, the league boasts the toughest athletes in the world. I’ve said that before, and I stand by that contention without batting an eye. Only in the NHL would you see heroism like the kind displayed by Kris Letang, who, on Saturday, treated a broken nose like a simple case of the sniffles.

I always found the people who called Crosby “soft,” or the like, to be laughably ignorant. If I need a job done that requires physical labor–a bodyguard, or a personal trainer, for example–give me the biggest wimp in the NHL over the average human being any day of the week.

As Letang’s former coach, fellow French-Canadian Michel Therrien, might say, they won’t be calling the Penguins defenseman “soff” anytime soon.

Letang took a head shot from Max Pacioretty that would make Cyrano de Bergerac not want to get within a country mile of Roxanne. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain he was going through, and I certainly hope it’s something I never have to endure.

His nose was bleeding all over the ice, and the Penguins, from a standpoint of pride, were bleeding as well. Once again, the Habs were giving them fits, and between P.K. Subban’s shenanigans and the fact that Paciroetty was not initially penalized for his hit, the Pens were getting home-cooked. If someone like Matt Cooke were the aggressor, they’d probably lock him in Laval and throw away the key.

But it didn’t stop Letang from delivering justice in overtime. Was his goal legal? I can understand the anger of Carey Price, who was adamant afterward that he “clearly” possessed the puck Tanger fired behind him for a dramatic victory at the Bell Centre.

The angle from ice level (about 1:10 into the video) suggests Price might not have had full possession of the puck. The overhead angle (about 2:00 into the video) suggests he might have.

But there was no indisputable evidence to overturn a disputable call made by an official who, admittedly, was horribly out of position, so in that context, the right call was ultimately made.

Okay, so maybe the Penguins caught a break there, but it was textbook karma nevertheless. If nothing else, Letang deserves credit not just for gutting it out, but for playing to the whistle. For multiple reasons it serves him right the Penguins won on his account.

His grit demonstrates why the Penguins have been so successful without Crosby. They simply don’t quit. Ever.

Give credit to the NHL for not quitting either when it comes to improving the safety of the game. Just because those officials didn’t do their jobs didn’t stop Brendan Shanahan from doing the right thing. Some might argue three games isn’t enough, but I think it’s just right for a first-time offender who did something indefensible.

Besides, as a wise man once said, don’t hate the player, hate the game. Until Shanahan accepted his current job, the NHL, by repeatedly turning its head, whistling, and strolling past similar plays–including a concussive hit absorbed by Pacioretty from Zdeno Chara last season–basically said it’s okay to pull that crap.

Furthermore, I’m willing to bet there’s at least one or two players who genuinely don’t know what a “clean” upper-body hit in the NHL is anymore. That’s why I appreciate the job Shanahan has done. His video explanations, including his breakdown of Pacioretty’s punishment, are all any of us could ask for, and Dan Bylsma is one of the coaches who uses those videos as teaching tools.

In the meantime, I hope the video of Letang winning the game Saturday night despite a significant facial injury is saved for posterity.

Rick Tocchet would certainly be proud.

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Tune into SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan for continuing coverage of the Penguins, and for more be sure to read Casey Shea’s “Shea-ved Ice” blog on 937thefan.com!

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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