Penguins prefer to forget last visit to ACC

The Maple Leafs aim for their first win of the season as they face the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre this evening.

While many of the Penguins players would prefer to erase the memory of their most recent visit to Toronto, it’s a safe bet that tonight’s result – regardless of the outcome – won’t provide as quite a dramatic effect as last time.

On February 14, 2009 – Toronto walloped Pittsburgh 6-2 in what was truly a St. Valentine’s Day massacre. The Pens’ record dropped to 27-25-5, placing the team precariously close to missing the playoffs.

The following evening, coach Michel Therrien was fired and replaced by Dan Bylsma.

Every hockey observer knows what happened next. Bylsma not only went 18-3-4 in the team’s final twenty-five games, but guided the team to the Stanley Cup championship.

Head coach Ron Wilson feigned a bit of smug credit for the Pens’ success at today’s morning skate. “I said to Ray Shero at one of our Olympic meetings ‘Do Brian (Burke) and I get rings, too – because us beating the Penguins last year was the last straw for Mr. Therrien?’”

Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby didn’t appear to be in a joking mood when informed of Wilson’s tongue-in-cheek comment. “That wasn’t the greatest feeling that we had that night. That was a tough night. Whenever anybody talks about that night, we all can kind of say ‘that was a low point’. We don’t want to have that feeling ever again, I don’t think. (Author’s note, Just like that photograph in the NHL commercials, right Sid?)

Meanwhile Bylsma took everything in stride as he reflected on the game that led to his hiring. “That was a turning point for our team. After that, we turned a corner. That’s the challenge of every season. There are different turning points. There’s highs and lows and that (game) was certainly a lull or low point during that stretch, and the boys turned it around after that, and went strong into the playoffs.”

Interestingly a week after Therrien’s firing, one of Pittsburgh’s Atlantic Division rivals also instituted a coaching change as a result of suffering a loss to the Leafs. One day after Toronto defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 on February 22, Tom Renney was fired and replaced by John Tortorella behind the Blueshirts’ bench.

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Viktor Stalberg’s injury (concussion) has led to some line-shuffling. Jason Blake will play on a line centred by John Mitchell, with Jamal Mayers on the left wing. Matt Stajan will have Niklas Hagman and Lee Stempniak as wingers.

On the blueline, Jeff Finger will be inserted into the lineup in place of a healthy Garnet Exelby. Finger will be paired with Francois Beauchemin to start the game, leaving Luke Schenn to play with Ian White.

Vesa Toskala will start in goal.


Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca

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