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Starkey: Talbot 'wore the cape'

| Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tell me a fight can change momentum in a hockey game, and I'll give you dozens of examples to the contrary.

I'll tell you it's not logical.

I would have told you, at first blush, that the Penguins erased a 3-0 deficit in Philadelphia on Saturday because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the best players in the world, not because Max Talbot got beaten up by some guy who'd scored four goals all season.

But that was before people who've played the game and coached it convinced me otherwise.

Not just a few people, mind you, and not just in comments for the record.

In fact, in speaking with players, coaches and management types at practice Monday, every one of them — some in private — told me that Talbot's fight with Daniel Carcillo was critical to the abrupt swing in momentum.

NBC analyst and former Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk called it while the fight was happening -- at 4:21 of the second period, 29 seconds after Daniel Briere had given Philly a 3-0 lead.

"I understand why Max Talbot is fighting," Olczyk said on the air, "but if you're Dan Carcillo, there's really no reason to engage. You have all the momentum. ... There's no reason to give the Penguins any opportunity to build momentum off of a scrap."

Olczyk continued: "I don't know what's going to come of it, but there's a time and a place. And to me, this is not the time for the Flyers."

Maybe it was just a coincidence that after Malkin's mad rush on the next shift, Ruslan Fedotenko — who was having a quiet series — went hard to the net and poked the puck from under Martin Biron's pad.

And yes, the Penguins still needed Mark Eaton to make like Mark Teixeira and bat a puck out of midair two minutes later to cut the Flyers' lead to 3-2.

But still ...

"For Max to put his body on the line like that, it got everybody off the bench," assistant coach Tom Fitzgerald said. "He fired me up. I know it meant a lot to his teammates. Some guys wear the cape different ways. For the coaching staff, I know Max had the cape for what he did."

I asked veteran winger Bill Guerin if he thought Talbot's tiff was the turning point.

"I know it was," Guerin said.

Did it change the team's energy?

"Not our energy as much as our attitude, like now we were going to do whatever it takes. Like we were ... "

A cornered animal?

"Yes," Guerin said, smiling.

Talbot manipulated the entire episode (except the part where he got punched a lot, and maybe that, too) by goading Carcillo.

"If I would have asked a guy like (Mike) Richards, or (Claude) Giroux or Briere, they probably wouldn't have fought," Talbot said, "so I went after a guy I knew would fight me."

What exactly, did Talbot say?

"I just said, 'You wanna fight?' He was like, 'Yeah• Yeah?' I was like, 'Yeah.' "

Talbot and others said players on the Flyers' bench were yelling at Carcillo to take the bait — and maybe that's the bigger story here.

Maybe, unwittingly, Talbot was asking the Flyers - at that precise moment - whether they were still the same old Flyers.

They answered with their fists instead of their brains.

That was a yes.

Rather than focus on protecting their 3-0 lead with the effective defensive style they had used in Game 5, the Flyers went Neanderthal.

They took the bait, because they are the Flyers.

Carcillo, who led the NHL in penalty minutes, raised his arms to the crowd on his way to the box. Defenseman Braydon Coburn blasted Fedotenko with a cheap shot after the subsequent goal. Sticks and gloves littered the ice.

The Flyers were officially distracted.

The Penguins were officially on their way to ending the series.

"I don't think we were playing terrible before (Talbot's fight)," Crosby said. "But there was something there that gave us a little more of a spark and motivated us, on that next shift, to respond."


Not really.



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