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Starkey: When things get hairy, it's Talbot's time

| Sunday, April 18, 2010

Max Talbot's playoff beard is in the stubble stage, nowhere near the Grizzly Adams look he sported last June.

I'm betting it gets there.

I'm also betting Talbot scores a critical goal or two in these playoffs because, like ol' Grizzly, he lives for the big-game hunt.

This first-round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators is a prime example. Despite a nightmarish regular season in which he struggled to rebound from shoulder surgery and fought other injuries, Talbot already has made a large imprint.

He's done so by fighting, forechecking, killing penalties, drawing penalties and blocking shots. All in limited ice time.

Beard aside, Talbot suddenly looks a lot like the guy we saw in last year's playoffs.

"It is me from last year's playoffs," he said in the dressing room Friday night, after the Penguins evened the series with a 2-1 victory. "I didn't have the season I wanted, and I have a lot to prove. By playing this way — keeping it simple and going hard — that's how I can prove myself and help the team win."

Penguins scout Chuck Grillo had the definitive quote on Talbot, a guy the Penguins chose with the 234th pick of a 291-player draft in 2002.

"He isn't afraid of the big moments," Grillo told me last year in the wake of Talbot's two-goal performance in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. "He welcomes them."

Look at Talbot's resume. It goes back a ways. He won the Guy Lafleur Trophy as MVP of the Quebec Major Junior League playoffs in 2003 and '04, preceding some guy named Sidney Crosby as winner of that award. He also scored one of the more dramatic goals in Penguins history in Game 5 of the 2008 Final and followed it with the team's only two goals in Game 7 of last year's Final.

Talbot finished last year's playoffs with eight goals, third on the team behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He led all players in the Final in goals (four) and plus-minus rating (plus-4).

That resume had to be on coach Dan Bylsma's mind when he opted to dress Talbot over Mike Rupp in Game 1 of this series. True, Talbot was practically invisible this season, scoring just two goals and posting a minus-9 rating in 45 games. But you don't sit Grizzly Adams when it's time for the hunt.

Talbot rewarded his coach's faith by drawing two penalties in Game 1, one of which led to a goal. At the first-period buzzer in Game 2 — not long after Ottawa's Andy Sutton crushed Jordan Leopold — Talbot dropped the gloves and fought Zack Smith.

Talbot's fierce forecheck has created scoring chances in both games.

"I thought Max Talbot, in Game 1, was a guy who raised his level," Bylsma said Friday night. "On one shift, in particular, you saw him block two shots. That's what you've come to see from Max Talbot over the years. And he definitely did that again (in Game 2), with his emotion."

Talbot's body still was twitching from exertion and excitement as he sipped a protein shake minutes after Game 2. I reminded him that he'd told me before the series that he was going to make a difference.

"I wasn't lying," he said. "When the body feels good, the mind follows."

I could be wrong, but I think Talbot's just getting started. I can imagine him, later this spring, skating on the second line with his buddy Malkin, scoring a goal just when the Penguins desperately need one. And,, of course, sporting a Grizzly beard.

The biggest games lay ahead.

Additional Information:

Game 5 tickets

Approximately 1,500 tickets for Game 5 of the Penguins-Senators Stanley Cup playoff series will go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday. Game 5 is scheduled for Thursday. Fans are encouraged to order tickets on-line at Ticketmaster?s Web site . Tickets can also be purchased at Mellon Arena Gate One box office, at Pittsburgh-arena Tickemaster locations and by calling 1-800-745-3000.

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