KANATA, ONTARIO -- The Penguins hold a 2-1 advantage in their quarterfinals series against the Ottawa Senators, thanks in small part to the play of their “superstar.”
No, I’m not talking about Sidney Crosby
, Evgeni Malkin
or Marc-Andre Fleury
. I’m talking about Maxime Talbot, who has taken on the moniker “superstar” from one of his local TV commercials.
Talbot has been one of the best players on the team in its opening round series against Ottawa. He’s added energy, tenacity, a strong forecheck and has done all the little things it takes to win playoff games that may go unnoticed to the untrained eye.
“He has worked hard to get his game back physically and mentally to the point where it’s at the right spot,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “The postseason is a good chance for him to find the level that defines his game and to strike a new season for himself. He has certainly been a factor in every game.”
In Game 1 Talbot drew two penalties, hustled to negate an icing call and recorded an assist. In fact, his play has been so strong that Bylsma reunited him with Evgeni Malkin
– his linemate during the 2009 Stanley Cup championship run – in Game 3.
Talbot rewarded his coach’s decision by setting up the go-ahead goal to Malkin, giving the Penguins a lead they would never lose.
“That was a big goal for us,” Talbot said. “It was a momentum goal. After that we kept going and going. That was when I thought we took control of the game and started playing smarter.”
Malkin intercepted the puck in his own end, gained the Ottawa blue line and chipped the puck ahead through two Senators. Talbot’s speed and effort allowed him to beat everyone to the puck and get off a backhand shot on net. Brian Elliott made the save but Malkin easily tapped the rebound into the net.
“I had the puck and Talbot supported me,” Malkin said. “He did a great job to shoot the puck on his backhand. I had an empty net to shoot into. We skated two on two and he supported me. I had an empty net.”
“He is finding his game and finding a way to be a factor in a lot of ways – whether it is on the fourth line, penalty killing or if he gets slotted up with Malkin,” Bylsma said. “He creates a scoring chance for Malkin (in Game 3), which was a big goal for us. Max is finding his way like we know him to do.”
Talbot always plays his best in the playoffs, and in the biggest games. Last year, he was the Penguins’ leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Final series against the Detroit Red Wings with four goals and six points.
Talbot has provided Penguins fans with two of the most memorable moments in team history. Talbot was the Game 7 Stanley Cup Final hero last year after scoring both Pittsburgh goals in a 2-1 triumph at Joe Louis Arena to give the franchise its third championship. And in the Penguins’ 2008 showdown with Detroit, Talbot scored the desperate game-tying goal with 34 seconds left in regulation of Game 5 to force overtime – a game the Penguins would win in the third overtime.
But the 2009-10 campaign has been a mentally and physically challenging season for Talbot. He missed the first 21 games of the season after having offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
As a result, Talbot missed training camp and was forced to train on his own – trying to replicate game situations in solo practices. Even when he finally did return to the lineup, Talbot’s shoulder still wasn’t fully recovered and he continued to strengthen it throughout the season.
Talbot had another setback in January when he was plagued by a groin injury that forced him to miss 10 more games.
“It was a long way back,” Talbot said. “This season is not where I wanted to be. It was difficult mentally and then my shoulder and my groin. It was a long way back. I’m proud of the last two, three months. I’ve been working really hard to play the way I can play, and be the player I can be. Right now my body feels good. It’s nice to be healthy and helping the team here.”
“Max has not had the year that he hoped for,” Bylsma said. “Coming back from the injury that he had and the surgery that he had is difficult. It’s tough to get to top form when you enter the season halfway through. Coming back from the injury he had is difficult. We always thought that Max Talbot would return to Max Talbot (form). It has not always been easy. It has been a struggle for Max physically and mentally trying to return to that form. That is what we have continually tried to work for and Max as well. It hasn’t always been a soft pillow for everybody but he has put himself in a position to be ready to battle.”
And if Max Talbot is finally regaining his form of last year, that’s great news for the Penguins.
“It’s been a great job by Max,” Malkin said. “He does good work. He’s my best friend here. I like to play with him. We have fun.”
“It was a tough season for me with injuries,” Talbot said. “The last two months I’ve been working really, really hard to get back into playoff shape. This is the time of year where it’s fun to play. It’s playoff hockey.”