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Penguins' Talbot knows his role

by Larry Wigge

For a moment, he was shocked, almost paralyzed. OK, so maybe I'm making the situation a little dramatic. But not by much, considering the importance of this frozen moment for a defensive specialist, a career third-line player.

Think about it for a moment. Maxime Talbot is tapped on the shoulder by Pittsburgh Penguins coach Michel Therrien to be the team's sixth attacker in the final minute of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, with the Detroit Red Wings ahead in the series, 3-1, and in the game, 3-2.

"Now I know what being frozen in time means ... literally," the 24-year-old veteran from Lemoyne, Quebec said after he scored with 34.3 seconds left in regulation and the Penguins beat the Red Wings in a classic 4-3 triple overtime contest. "Pinch me. I have to be dreaming."

We should have known, however, that in all sports there is so often an unexpected star on the horizon at some of the most memorable moments. The role this role player played in early June in a true classic was to be a difference-maker.

Throughout the run for the 2008 Stanley Cup, Talbot was a voice of reason on this young, very skilled Pittsburgh team. He was refreshingly honest talking about his experience and was a real energy player for the Penguins.

Even if he was frozen in the moment ... for a split second.

"I see Marc-Andre Fleury coming to the bench and the coach says, 'Max, get going.' I'm like: 'Me?'

"I didn't say it, but that's what I thought. I don't think I've ever been put on the ice as a sixth attacker. It was a gutsy move by the coach. I remember looking at him like he was crazy. But I guess he had some kind of sixth sense."

Talbot jumped off the bench and quickly got himself into the play. Seconds later, he found himself uncovered at the corner of the net. He took two whacks at the puck before the second one went in the short side on Detroit goalie Chris Osgood.

"Now I know what being frozen in time means ... literally." -- Maxime Talbot

Therrien said it was a feeling he had when he put Talbot -- who had just 12 goals in the regular season -- on the ice as a sixth attacker and he tied the game, 3-3.

"I loved Talbot's game," Therrien said. "He was on the puck. He's got a lot of energy. And one thing you know, you want to put the puck at the net -- and he was always around the net."

Hockey is all about heart and soul, sweat and blood, passion and those priceless moments where a character, role player takes center stage.

In the process, Talbot became the first player to stave off elimination in the final minute of a Stanley Cup Final game since 1936, when Pep Kelly of the Toronto Maple Leafs scored with 41 seconds left in Game 3 of a five-game series Detroit won the next day.

One day later, while the 2002 eighth-round draft choice was holding court, I tried to catch him off-guard by asking him what he would be if he wasn't a hockey player. The loquacious Talbot looked me straight in the eyes and wondered, "You haven't seen my work as an actor?"

He was serious. He was even appalled that I hadn't seen his work on YouTube, where he played the part of a car salesman in a spot that was shown on Jay Leno and billed as one of the worst commercials ever made.

After the 4-3 triple-overtime victory by Pittsburgh against Detroit on a goal by Petr Sykora, Talbot showed that commercial pose. He also showed me his cell phone that proved he indeed was a celebrity.

"Look," he said proudly, "55 text messages. Mostly, they said, 'Bravo. You saved the season.' Obviously my friends, they know I'm kind of a sore loser."

When told that he tied Pep Kelly's last-minute stave-off-elimination goal, the peppy Talbot cracked, "He was probably a no-name like me. Probably a fourth-liner."

Whatever he's got in hockey, to this point, he has earned by working harder than the next guy.

"My dad's a hard worker, he does whatever it takes -- whatever is broken, he can fix it, he pours concrete foundations, floors, he can build houses, so he's always the first one to help. I think I take my work ethic a little bit from him. My grandfather is the same: Both workhorses."

When you're a player who has had to show what you've got to offer almost every day of your hockey life like Max, you just worked harder and harder. There was a big smile on Talbot's face at this point in the interview. He was remembering his draft day in 2002.

"My agent told me I would be a third or fourth-round pick," he said of that year's draft in Toronto in which the first three rounds went by on the first day and the rest the next day with Max's name never called. "That night back at the hotel, my agent assured me I would go in the fourth round. Soon we went through the fourth, the fifth and the sixth.

"I remember seeing my parents come back to their seats with tears in their eyes. I said, 'Thanks guys for caring.' My mom said, 'Sorry, we were so nervous we had to get a cigarette and the smoke was terrible.' "

The only thing that's uncertain about Max Talbot's place in hockey now is if this happy-go-lucky forward could show more of his sixth sense to score more big goals in the future for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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