A 42nd birthday a month away.
Sure, there were some factors going against Gary Roberts heading into the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Ottawa.
However, the people who wear the bracelets and carry the signs asking “WWGRD?” or “What Would Gary Roberts Do?” got a clear answer Wednesday night in Game 1 – the postseason is Roberts’ season.
Roberts scored twice and racked up 16 penalty minutes with his physical presence to help the Penguins surge to a 4-0 win over the Senators.
“It felt really good to chip in. I think it’s going to be a tough series so we wanted to come out and play hard in Game 1 as they did to us last year in Game 1,” he said. “They embarrassed us in Ottawa last year. I think we learned our lesson and I think we came out with a big win Wednesday. But, we realize it’s far from over. We realize the type of team they are and they are going to come back hard and we have to be ready.”
|Teammates swarm Gary Roberts following his first goal Wednesday night. |
Nevertheless, Roberts continued to shine in the postseason. Roberts finished tied for second in Penguins playoff scoring last year with four points (2+2) and began this year with a bang.
Roberts’ performance might have been a surprise to some, since he missed 46 games with a broken leg and ankle sprain and returned to the ice for the final regular-season game at Philadelphia. However, the Penguins were not shocked.
“He does it year after year. It’s great to see, but I don’t think we’re surprised,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “That’s the type of player and person he is. He’s a warrior and he’s been doing it for a long time. When you have a guy like that leading, it’s just up to us to follow it.”
“I was glad with the way he was able to perform,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “He’s the type of guy that makes a name out for himself to be a warrior in the playoffs. He’s just a warrior.”
Skating on a checking line with Max Talbot and Georges Laraque, Roberts found the back of the net 68 seconds into the game when he spun and slipped a shot past Martin Gerber. That goal caused an already-electric environment to erupt into a deafening frenzy that rocked Mellon Arena.
“I was just trying to go to the net. When big Georges is behind the net with the puck, I know where to go. I know he’s tough to get the puck off of and I know he’s going to throw it on front of the net. I just happened to catch Wade Redden still down on the ice and I was able to get positioning on him and get a shot away. It wasn’t very pretty, but I will take it anyway,” he said. “It’s a good feeling for us. Last year, I think we were in shock after Game 1 in Ottawa. They came out so hard and battled us really hard. That feeling I don’t think has left this dressing room. We know they are a character club and they didn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Finals without playing well. We know they have a lot left in their tank and we’re going to have to be as good, if not better, to win in Game 2.”
Roberts put an exclamation point on the victory when he tallied a power-play goal with 1:35 left in the contest. Evgeni Malkin’s pass across the crease found Roberts near the back post. The puck deflected off Roberts’ stick and skate before sliding into the goal.
“I didn’t have a lot of jump in my legs,” Roberts said. “I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. We’ll take it. It’s a big win.”
The veteran winger wasn’t afraid to asset himself physically. At the end of the game, he landed a hit on Cody Bass and eventually racked up 16 penalty minutes in the scrum that ensued.
“I don’t know how I got that. You knew they were out there trying to take some shots at us. I gave Bass a little shot, but I didn’t think it was anything serious. I was getting punched quite a bit under the pile. I wasn’t sure who was punching me, but I was taking quite a few punches. I tried to get loose and get a few in myself. I am not really sure what happened other than there were a lot of guys yelling at me,” he said. “Obviously, they were down 4-0 and it’d be no different if we were down 4-0. Frustration sets in and they are out there trying to get their team going and make a statement for Game 2. We’re not going to back down. We have a lot of character in this room and a lot of guys who have battled hard this year for each other. That will have to continue for us to have success.”
|Gary Roberts continues to shine for the Penguins. |
Roberts continues to haunt the Senators. He was part of Toronto teams that eliminated the Senators three times during a four-year stretch from 2001-04 and has scored 14 of his 32 career playoff goals against Ottawa.
“It’s probably because that’s the only team I’ve played against in the playoffs the last eight years,” he said with a laugh. “It sure is fun to contribute. It’s going to take everybody to contribute game in and game out. We’ll put this one in the bank and get back to work.”
Roberts is no stranger to hard work. Always dedicated and disciplined off the ice, he had to endure a grueling mental and physical comeback after he broke his leg and suffered a high ankle sprain in a game on Dec. 29. Those injuries kept him out of the Penguins’ lineup until last Sunday.
“I thought I’d come back from the broken leg, but obviously the ankle injury really set me back. Sure, I had my doubts and some tough days rehabbing, but fortunately with the staff here with Mark Mortland and Mike Kadar, they kept my spirits up and kept me working every day. I have a long way to go. I am far from where I need to be to be successful every night. Hopefully, I can chip away here and make the process a little easier as we get going.
“It’s going to be a process for me. It’s not going to happen overnight,” he continued. “I have been out for a long time. Obviously, the adrenaline of playing in the playoffs and being home obviously helps. I need to keep chipping away at where my conditioning needs to be and contribute any way I can.”
Nevertheless, the Penguins’ elder statesman feels invigorated by the environment in the Penguins’ locker room.
”It’s exciting to be here with this group of players. That was the big reason I came back. I had such a great time the first time around,” he said. “Other than losing to Ottawa in the first round, it was a great experience for me to be here and see these guys like Staal, Malkin, Crosby and Malone work so hard every day and enjoy being at the rink, it keeps an older guy younger, that’s for sure. It’s exciting to be a part of it. Hopefully, that will continue down the stretch.”