"The biggest thing with Craig is he knows how to win, knows what has to be done. Then, he goes out and executes. That's why he was on the ice in the last, big seconds of the game."
-- Bill Guerin on Craig Adams
The greatest honor an NHL player can receive is the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Among hockey insiders, the next greatest honor -- testament to a player's genuine worth -- is to be on the ice in the final minute of the championship-deciding game.
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin
was awarded the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy on the basis of his 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points in 24 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Malkin led the playoffs in assists and points, while teammate Sidney Crosby
led the playoffs with 15 goals.
Malkin and Crosby, who was injured in Game 7, watched from the bench as goalie Marc-Andre Fleury
, defensemen Rob Scuderi
and Hal Gill
, and forwards Jordan Staal
, Max Talbot and Craig Adams
defended against six Detroit Red Wings
attackers in the final seconds of Game 7 of the '09 Final.
With 6.5 seconds remaining on the clock, Detroit won the faceoff to Fleury's left and got the puck back to Brian Rafalski
at the right point. Rafalski looked for a possible pass to captain Nicklas Lidstrom
at the left point, but Adams was between them. Rafalski then shot, but it was blocked by Gill. Staal tried to sweep it into the left corner, but Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg
fired it back through traffic in front of the net and Lidstrom rushed down the side to take one last shot that Fleury blocked.
Meanwhile, Adams, who had closed in to collect the rebound of Rafalski's shot off Gill, turned to cover Lidstrom, hurrying the defenseman's shot. The puck bounced off Fleury, back to Adams who was laying on his stomach. While Zetterberg poked with his stick, Adams pushed the puck around until the final buzzer sounded.
"I shouldn't have come over and tried to block (Rafalski's shot) with that amount of time left," said Adams, who won his first Stanley Cup with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes
. "I should have stayed in my position. If I had, Lidstrom wouldn't have come in and got off that shot. When I saw that rebound bounce out to Lidstrom, I thought, 'Oh no, he's going to get a chance at a good shot.'
"I did everything I could to get in front of the shot and when it didn't hit me, I got pretty nervous. I didn't see 'Flower' save it. I was on my stomach. It bounced right back in front of me and I grabbed it and kept it between my arms. I knew there was only a second left and taking a penalty wouldn't matter."
"Craig is a good example of the new NHL," Gill said. "There are high-paid goal scorers and high-paid all-around defensemen who move the puck well. Then, there are players like Craig and I who are trying to find a niche for ourselves. He's a shut-down player, a guy who kills penalties and is on the ice in clutch situations because his brains make him so effective. He knows where to be in every situation.
"The hardest thing in hockey is blocking shots and that's what wins. You need guys willing to sacrifice at the end of big games. It doesn't matter how you stop it as long as it gets stopped. Everybody in the NHL says they're tough, but how many guys will go down on two knees to block a one-timer?"
"Look at that," one observer said. "Adams wins his second Stanley Cup while laying on his belly."
"No," said another. "He won because he was on his belly."
"Whoever said that is correct," said Penguins teammate Billy Guerin, another trade deadline acquisition, along with Chris Kunitz
, who played an important role in Pittsburgh's victory. "Here's a guy that was picked up on waivers, just a tremendous pickup. He's someone who had already won a Stanley Cup so he knows what it takes.
"Craig didn't play every game after he got here, but he stuck with it and when the playoffs started, he became an invaluable member of the team. He killed penalties and blocked shots. The biggest thing with Craig is he knows how to win, knows what has to be done. Then, he goes out and executes. That's why he was on the ice in the last, big seconds of the game. He's a smart guy, someone who really studies the game and he's willing to do the dirty work. He's a winner, again."
Scan that list again and you'll see that all three forwards that coach Dan Bylsma
had on the ice in the final seconds can play center -- Adams and Talbot usually play a wing -- and take faceoffs. Talbot and Staal are left-handed shots and Adams is a right-hander. Bylsma was covered regardless of which circle was used for a defensive-zone faceoff and in case his first choice got tossed by the referee.
"Dan put me in those situations a lot in the playoffs," Adams said. "It was great being out there at the end, protecting a lead in Game 7 of the Final. That's a pretty big situation. There were five of us on the ice and we didn't play it exactly right but we got the job done with a lot of help from Fleury."
"He's a shut-down player, a guy who kills penalties and is on the ice in clutch situations because his brains make him so effective. He knows where to be in every situation." -- Hal Gill on Craig Adams
Adams will be back with the Penguins this season, after signing a two-year contract. He had 2 goals and 5 assists for seven points and was minus-3 in 45 games for Chicago and Pittsburgh last year. He had only one assist in nine regular-season Penguins' games but became a fixture in the playoffs. He had 3 goals and 2 assists in 24 playoff games.
Adams had the first-period goal that made the score 2-0 in Pittsburgh's Game 7, 6-2 victory over the Washington Capitals
in the second round and two empty-netters against Carolina.
The Penguins were fortunate to have Adams, a player they picked up on waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks
on March 4, the trading deadline. Adams got caught in a numbers game in Chicago, a glut of forwards, and the Blackhawks put him on waivers, hoping they could store him in the minors for a spell.
Adams had been a healthy scratch in the three Blackhawks games prior to being put on waivers, but Pittsburgh General Manager Ray Shero
knew the worth of Adams' character and hockey intelligence.
Adams, 32, is an eight-year NHL veteran who grew up in Calgary and played four years for Harvard University.
"It's been great, I couldn't have asked to get more back from the game than I have," Adams said. "I love the game and it's not that I wanted something from it but as I get older, I realize I've been rewarded a lot for the time that I've put in."