-- Maxime Talbot
likely won't ever win a Hart Trophy or be named to an All-Star team, but don't think for one second that makes him any less valuable to the Pittsburgh Penguins
Talbot's willingness and ability to do anything and everything was on display in the Penguins' victory against the Washington Capitals
in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
Elevated by coach Dan Bylsma
to the second line, Talbot's energy seemed to be the spark that woke sleeping giant Evgeni Malkin
from a series-long slumber. And his ability to win a puck along the wall in the neutral zone midway through the second period set up the Pens' first goal. He dug the puck out of a scrum, sent it to Ruslan Fedotenko
and broke for the Washington net. Fedotenko tried to center a pass to him, but it never made it, hitting Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina
. The puck bounced back to Fedotenko, who buried a wrist shot at 9:29 to make it a 1-1 game.
When he wasn't making big plays, he was making all sorts of small ones. He delivered three hits in 19:42 of ice time, and slid from far out of the play to block an Alexander Ovechkin shot early in overtime. And while his home-run pass to Malkin off a Capitals' turnover in the Pittsburgh end didn't connect, it was on net and forced Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov to cover the puck. On the ensuing faceoff, Kris Letang
scored the winning goal.
Doing the little things is nothing new for Talbot. In fact, there's little chance the Penguins would even be the second round of the playoffs, let alone have a viable chance of defending their Eastern Conference title.
In Game 6 of the Pens' first-round series against Philadelphia, Talbot convinced the Flyers' Daniel Carcillo
to fight him. The Flyers led 3-0 and while Talbot lost the bout, his willingness to stand up for his teammates and do something to try to change the momentum clearly worked. Just 14 seconds after his fight, the Penguins scored the first of five straight goals that allowed them to close the series.
Wednesday night, he used his hands in a different way, as Bylsma elevated him to right wing on a line with Malkin and Fedotenko.
"I love Max, he's a nice guy, lots of energy," Malkin said. "We had lots of talks before the game. I know how he plays, played with him last year a couple games. I love playing with him. We played aggressive all game, got lots of shots. We played good tonight."
Talbot refused to take credit for Malkin's performance, but he didn't end up playing alongside the League's leading regular-season scorer because he's got nice hair.
"He adds energy and a physical presence and a forechecking presence and a puck-pursuit presence that adds something to that line," Bylsma said.
"I think it frees up Geno's mind," forward Bill Guerin
said of the Talbot-Malkin dynamic. "Max is a guy that can be relied on defensively all the time. It kind of opens up Geno's game a little bit. Max is kind of a jack of all trades for us -- he can play wing, he can play center, play down low in our end. He can do a little bit of everything."
Doing everything is what got Talbot to the NHL, and now in his fourth season, he's smart enough to know that to stay here, he has to keep things simple.
"You do your role, you try to create things, that's what I'm trying to do," said Talbot. "I try to be Max Talbot -- be super easy, chip the puck. If I play on that second line, I'm not going to do backdoor plays with sweet skills, I'm going to chip the puck, try to get ahead, get the puck, give it to (Malkin) and drive the net. Not too complicated."
He keeps it easy off the ice, too. Talbot wears his smile as well as the scars that come with his job. He's best remembered for two things -- his last-minute goal that sent Game 5 of last year's Stanley Cup Final to overtime, and his role in a commercial for a local Pittsburgh car dealership (search on YouTube for Talbot and commercial).
"He's a great guy," center Craig Adams
said. "He brings a lot of energy every day. He's friends with everyone ... He's a good guy to have around."
Contact Adam Kimelman at: firstname.lastname@example.org.