Every time he touches the puck, a low rumbling “Ruuuuuuu” emanates out of the old seats inside the Mellon Arena. Since Jarkko Ruutu
rarely holds onto the puck for too long, the fans rarely even have time to get to the “tuuuuuuu” to finish out the chant.
“It really feels good,” Ruutu said Saturday.
It feels better now that Ruutu has gone from fan favorite to a virtual cult hero in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. The checking line guru who is better known in NHL circles as a “pest” has done more than just get under the skin of the opposition this month.
He’s scoring big goals, such as the game-winner in Game 4 against Ottawa and the Penguins’ first goal Friday night that sliced the New York Rangers’ lead to 3-1 and helped change the game’s momentum.
“The role players are the difference makers in the playoffs,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s not always a goal. It can be a shift to change momentum. Those guys are the ones that make the difference.”
Ruutu has been huge for Pittsburgh, and it’s obvious Penguins coach Michel Therrien has noticed because he gave Ruutu more than 17 minutes of ice time in Game 1 against the Rangers, roughly seven minutes more than his regular-season average.
In fact, Ruutu is averaging about 13 minutes per game in the playoffs after hovering around the 10-minute mark during the regular season. He’s rewarded his coach with solid play at both ends as the left wing with center Jordan Staal and right wing Tyler Kennedy.
“He’s a good checker and a tough guy to play against, and we’re glad that he’s able to bring some offense to his game because in the playoffs you need contributions from a lot of players,” Therrien said of Ruutu, who also has an assist and a plus-1 rating through five playoff games. “They gave us that first goal — and it gave us a lot of life when we were down by three goals.”
Ruutu, though, is more known throughout the League for running his mouth on the ice. Kennedy said there are times when he has to put his glove over his mouth to hold his laughter in.
“I hear him quite a bit,” Kennedy said, “and it’s pretty funny some of the stuff he says.”
“Not too much is printable,” Kennedy added. “He just makes fun of people.”
That’s not very nice, but it works — and Ruutu has a way of knowing where that invisible line between pest and penalty runs.
“The one thing he doesn’t do is he doesn’t go over the line,” Kennedy said. “He just gets under people’s skin.”
It appeared to work Friday night when Ruutu waved his stick in Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival’s face before a faceoff 7:46 into the second period. The Rangers had made it 3-0 minutes earlier and Ruutu was just trying to give the Pens some life. He said he was also reacting to Rozsival’s high stick on him earlier in the game.
“I don’t think you want to make the other team feel comfortable. You want to make them think,” Ruutu said. “He got the stick up on me when they iced the puck, and that’s the way it goes. We’re down 3-zip, so you have to try something.”
Granted, it’s only fair to note that referee Don Koharski skated over to Ruutu right away and told him he would give him a 10-minute misconduct penalty if he waved his stick like that again.
“He was beside me and I was looking at the ref’s eyes, but I had his stick in front of my eyes,” Rozsival said. “I was like, ‘Are you going to do something about this?’ Later he came over and gave him a warning. It’s kind of his job, but it’s a little bit crossing the line.”
Ruutu got his point across without taking a penalty — and 27 seconds later he really nailed Rozsival when he sent a puck off his skate and past Henrik Lundqvist for the Penguins first goal.
“I think for me it’s just about playing the game the way I always play, and in the playoffs it fits my style more than in the regular season,” Ruutu said. “I don’t try anything fancy. When I get the chance I always put the puck on net, and sometimes it goes in. You’ll get rewarded when you keep working hard.”
Ruutu said he doesn’t mind carrying the “pest” moniker. To an extent he even agrees with it.
“Whatever people want to call me, it’s fine with me,” Ruutu said. “I guess it goes a little bit with how I play, but I don’t care. Once you get the tag, you get the tag forever.
“I think it makes the other team keep their head up and think the game, but at the same time I probably get penalties called on me a lot easier than some other guys. I have to live with that and I have to know where the line is and try not to cross it.”
Ruutu probably spent too much time in the penalty box during the regular season. He accumulated 138 penalty minutes, second on the team behind Georges Laraque, via 39 minors, six majors, two 10-minute misconducts and one game-misconduct.
Before the playoffs began, Therrien even called Ruutu into his office and brought up the penalty situation to the pest, who had 12 minors in the last nine regular-season games.
“How can I send you out there in a tight game in the playoffs?” Therrien said he asked Ruutu according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “How can I trust you when I don’t know when you’re going to take a penalty?”
The message registered. Ruutu didn’t take spend a single minute in the penalty box during the four games against Ottawa, and he stayed out Friday night as well. As a result his shifts and ice time have both gone up and the Penguins are relying on him.
“You have to think the game through before you do things,” Ruutu said. “You can’t get too emotional because that’s when you get stupid and go overboard. You have to be in control and know what you’re doing all the time.”
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.