WASHINGTON -- After Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Wednesday, reporters crowded around Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. One asked about his mask, which is decorated as an homage to teammates past and present.
Why was there tape over "Nisky," short for defenseman Matt Niskanen, who played for the Penguins, now plays for the Washington Capitals and gave Penguins captain Sidney Crosby a concussion with a crosscheck in Game 3?
Fleury laughed, played dumb and kept his lips zipped.
"You guys are good, though," he said with a smile. "Good spies."
The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 3-1 entering Game 5 at Verizon Center on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). And guess what is a block away from Verizon Center? The International Spy Museum and, more importantly, its store, full of gifts and gadgets perfect for the subterfuge of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There is a lot of cloak and dagger this time of year. Crosby skated in secret Wednesday. He tried to skate in secret Thursday. The Penguins put up extra black curtains around their practice rink in suburban Cranberry, Pennsylvania, but a couple of enterprising reporters showed up, peeked through the cracks and broke the big news.
The Penguins were upfront about Crosby's diagnosis. Full marks to them. The way coaches often are about injuries, calling them "upper body" or "lower body" or even "body" injuries for competitive advantage and protection, it's sometimes hard to tell if this is the NHL or the NSA. A coach once called me "Cot-so-sneak-a" after I reported an injury, as if I were wearing dark glasses and a trench coat, tiptoeing around the training room. I did have a source, but it was no Deep Throat. It was the player himself.
The International Spy Museum store has everything for the coaches and reporters in your life. Lines of merchandise that say "I WAS NEVER HERE" and "DENY EVERYTHING." My favorite: a T-shirt that says "I'M TELLING YOU … NOTHING HAPPENED." The letters are black, except "I," "M," "L," "Y," "I," "N" and "G" are in white.
But the store is especially valuable for reporters. There are books like "HOW TO SPOT A LIAR: Why People Don't Tell the Truth … and How You Can Catch Them." There is a smartphone telephoto lens with six-times magnification power, so the next time a goalie tapes over something on his mask, you can zoom in and snap a picture. There are spy cameras hidden in smiley-face buttons, ties, pens and glasses. There are listening devices hidden in pens and fake Bluetooth earpieces. One boosts the sound up to 50 times.
"Superb Listening," the package says. "High Tech Style!"
Maybe I could drop one in the locker room and …
Wait. I just blew my cover. And there are, you know, ethics, and I don't want to get, you know, fired.
Maybe I'll just get one of those T-shirts that say "I WAS NEVER HERE."