Fridays and the number 13 are traditionally viewed as a very unlucky combination, but it was a Friday night, and it was Number 13, Bill Guerin, who brought the luck to the team in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals match-up against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Game 2 had a decidedly different feel to it than Game 1, which saw the Penguins dominate their opponent in every aspect of the game, making it look easy. The Flyers recovered in the off-day, made adjustments, and were bound and determined to prove that they, too, could be a disciplined team. And for a while, it seemed to be working. The Flyers drew first blood barely seven seconds into their power play against the second PK unit of Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis on a weird tip in from a shot at the blue line. In the first period, the Broad Street Bullies de jour only had one offender in the sin bin versus two from the Pens. This was a vast improvement from game 1, which saw four Flyers caught for penalties in the first period.
The Penguins continued a steady pace though, and Marc-Andre Fleury did his part to keep the game close, facing a total of 14 shots in the first frame. His team was rewarded as #13 Bill Guerin hitched a ride on a shift with the original 2-Headed Monster of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even strength at 16:38 in the second period, a 3-on-2 rush initiated by a great Gonchar poke-check in their defensive end sent the puck to a waiting Malkin on the right boards, and they were off. A smart and sassy wrister from Guerin notched the equalizer.
The newly minted, disciplined Flyers team started to tarnish a little as the third period saw them taking the only penalty in the period on a Jeff Carter hook, and it would prove costly. Guerin quarterbacked a play from the left side of Martin Biron who had to be mindful of Malkin behind him in the trapezoid. Crosby was perched in the right circle. Guerin surveyed the scene and made a shift a little higher in the left circle. Crosby shifted up as well, allowing Guerin to send him a crisp pass across the front of the goal. Crosby quickly turned the puck to Sergei Gonchar, who sent it back left again to Kris Letang cheating in on the left circle. As this was happening, both Guerin and Malkin converged, and Letang’s slapper was fed into the net by Malkin.
That was with 3:47 left in regulation. The Penguins had life, and the Flyers were seething. OT was spectacular as Fleury turned away 10 shots and Biron faced 11. The Flyers slung off their sheep’s clothing starting at 16:55 when the first wolf Mike Knuble reared his ugly head on a cross-checking penalty, which had him and an already-penalized Hal Gill for the Pens hanging out in the sin bin as their teams moved through a 4-on-4 situation. Twenty-five seconds later at 17:25, one second before Gill was to be let loose, a second wolf emerged as Claude Giroux of the Flyers took a 2-minute slashing penalty and went to join his teammate, Knuble.
This created the perfect 5-on-3 the Pens needed. Coach Dan Bylsma elected to insert Chris Kunitz in the power play this time, which slid Malkin to the right point with Gonchar on the left. Guerin and Crosby took the left and right circles. As Malkin shifted the puck along the blue line to Gonchar, the Sarge made for what looked like a slap shot that instead was slap-passed to a waiting Guerin perched just to Biron’s right off the left post. The goal was the nail in the Flyers’ coffin as all discipline was thrown out the door, ending with a frustrated Kimmo Timonen taking a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
So what is it about Bill Guerin? Last season, the cult of Gary Roberts applauded his role as the veteran in the locker room who could guide a young captain in Crosby and a young team in the Penguins to victory. With Roberts, though, you never knew what you were going to get. The cold look of a crocodile and the hit of a freight train, Roberts commanded notice. He scored some key goals, but was seen more as an enigma–something simultaneously awed and feared.
Bill Guerin, by stark contrast, appears to be one of those veterans who fits the category of “still waters run deep.” He’s not flashy, but he’s reliable. He doesn’t do anything to command notice in the ways Roberts did, but that makes Guerin even more dangerous than Roberts. Guerin skillfully flies under the radar of opposing teams, and by the time his presence is realized, it’s too late–kind of like a Stealth bomber. His body of work in game 2 is a classic example of this. He only posted two hits and a blocked shot, but he had his finger on the trigger for 8 shots on net, two of which were fatal blows to the Flyers.
From watching interviews, Guerin possesses the same kind of quiet, even-keeled, contemplative personality that Sidney Crosby does, and in that, Sid has a perfect mentor. Unlike Roberts, Guerin is also one of those two puzzle pieces the Pens have been looking for to complete the Crosby line and end the saga of “Who Can Play with Sid?” Marian Hossa was not the solution either, truth be told.
It is doubtful that there will be any WWBGD? like the WWGRD? (What Would Gary Roberts Do?) slogans that seemed to show up everywhere in Pittsburgh last year. It’s not necessary. Guerin, now and in the long run, is a better suited veteran (and Crosby linemate) for the Penguins in terms of his poise and his skill. The Pens are lucky to have Number 13.