Crosby, a diver? Question sparks war of words between Rangers, Pens
PITTSBURGH -- To carp or not to carp: that is the question.
It wasn't quite Hamlet's soliloquy; but for an off day after Game 1 of this Eastern Conference semifinals, it was pretty good. Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien took the New York Rangers, and specifically coach Tom Renney, to task for accusing Sidney Crosby of diving.
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• The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins overcame a three-goal deficit to win in the playoffs was the first game of the 1992 Stanley Cup finals, when they roared back to sweep Chicago and win their second straight Stanley Cup. Cue the "Twilight Zone" music. The score in that game was 5-4, the same score as Friday's comeback win over the New York Rangers. The Pens were being led by a young man named Jaromir Jagr, who now sports No. 68 for the New York Rangers.
• The last time the Rangers gave up five goals in a game was back on Feb. 15, when they blew a 5-0 lead against the Montreal Canadiens and lost 6-5 in overtime. After that debacle, the Rangers went on a 7-0-1 run.
• For Sunday's Game 2, Rangers coach Tom Renney is contemplating inserting Petr Prucha into the lineup to give New York a little different offensive look. The Czech forward had 30 goals in 2005-06, but has fallen out of favor in New York the past couple of seasons. Prucha played in just 62 games and did not see any action in the first round against New Jersey. He has not scored in his last 12 games, dating back to Feb. 1.
"If I do play him, Petr has played well against Pittsburgh," Renney said. "We've got pretty good players sitting out. Right now, I'll sit on that and make a decision in the morning."
• Gary Roberts remains day-to-day with a groin injury and his availability for Game 2 remains uncertain. The Penguins are 3-0 without Roberts in the lineup in the playoffs.
• Dan Craig is in the house. After repeated complaints about the quality of ice at Mellon Arena (at times in Game 1, the puck looked like a ping pong ball), the NHL has brought in the ice guru to try and make it right. Craig is arguably the most famous icemaker in the world and is responsible for, among other things, the ice at the outdoor games in Edmonton and Buffalo, the Olympic Games and the NHL regular-season games in London last fall.
-- Scott Burnside
For almost three minutes, Therrien went nonstop, talking about how disappointed he was in Renney and saying it was obvious the Rangers coach was trying to get into the collective kitchens of Crosby, the on-ice officials and the NHL in general.
Speaking with reporters before Friday's game, Renney said Crosby's diving would be among the things he'd address with the series' supervisor of officials in the pre-series meeting. And with 3:20 left in the game, the Rangers were clearly upset with an interference call against Martin Straka for obstructing Crosby as the Penguins looked to have a 2-on-1 break with the score tied at 4. With an angry Straka in the box, Crosby set up the winner by whistling a slap shot off teammate Evgeni Malkin with 1:41 left to cap a dramatic comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
"We all know what Tom Renney was trying to do before the series and I see his comment today. He tries to give attention to the referees and complaining about the penalty at the end of the game," Therrien said after the Penguins' practice Saturday. "We know what he is trying to do, but I'm convinced the referee doesn't buy into those things, the league doesn't buy into those things.
"Why don't we give credit to a guy who plays in traffic, who will get shots? They never see the shot in the face in the first period by [Sean] Avery. Sometimes, [Crosby's] going to draw penalties, sometimes there's not going to be any penalty. But he's going to keep going there. Eventually, he will draw a penalty if he keeps going there, he knows. He's not going to go to the outside, that's the way he is, he's not going to take the easy road, he's going to take the tough road to succeed.
"Yesterday on that play, to try and get a step on it, if he didn't get hooked, we're probably going to go on a breakaway. He drew a penalty. I'm kind of disappointed [Renney] complained about it."
Asked whether the Rangers' comments showed disrespect to Crosby and the Penguins, Therrien answered simply, "Enough is enough. That is enough."
By the end, it was such good theater, you didn't know whether to clap or cry.
The increasingly heated dialogue between the two teams speaks to the stakes of a series in which any little edge, mental or physical, may mean the difference between winning and losing.
At various times in his short career, Crosby has been accused of complaining too much to officials about calls or non-calls and embellishing fouls to draw penalties. He hates the suggestion, and before this series vehemently denied being that kind of a player. In a game that is steeped in codes and unwritten rules governing behavior, to be accused of such things is akin to being slapped in the face with a white glove. Being a complainer and a diver is the equivalent to being a stool pigeon or battlefield coward.
But all is fair in love, war and the NHL playoffs.
If, for one moment, their comments make a referee look differently at a Crosby play, even just once, then they will have accomplished their goal. The Rangers, predictably, seemed puzzled by Therrien's comments, as though the idea had never crossed their minds until that very moment.
"I don't recall ever suggesting Sidney himself was an issue," Renney said Saturday afternoon. "Certainly, last night, I think by my answers, I didn't suggest anyone was outside of the rules of the game. I left that for others to conclude. We're worried about winning this series. That's the last thing that we have to worry about."
Once upon a time, it may have been part of a great player's defense mechanism to put on a little show for the referees to draw penalties and create some space in which they could more freely operate. Wayne Gretzky was often criticized for such behavior. The rules are different now, but perhaps the instincts remain the same.
"I don't think a lot of great players around the league would say, 'Yeah I do it.' I don't think Sidney would say that he does it," Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. "And again, we're not in here talking today about that play. If Therrien is talking about it today, then what he's doing is he's bringing attention to it. We're certainly not bringing attention to it. We've moved on."
Shanahan, in an admirable exercise in verbal gymnastics, suggested Crosby wasn't necessarily a diver, but rather his style of play can be confused with diving. Sort of.
"I know the guys in this room respect him and the way he plays, and he plays hard," Shanahan said. "He's around the puck a lot. He makes second and third efforts that are going to sometimes drop him down to his knees and on the ice. Sometimes that's just the way he plays. I don't think he's necessarily diving, but he's the type of player who will dive for loose pucks and dive for second and third efforts. And I think he plays an all-out, all-effort style sometimes the referees can confuse with somebody fouling him."
No doubt we haven't heard the last of this issue.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
2008 NHL PLAYOFFS
We're down to the final eight teams as the battle for the Stanley Cup continues. Scott Burnside previews the second round:
• No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
• No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 N.Y. Rangers
• 2008 NHL playoffs index