And they helped execute that task with a combination of slickness, skill and all the down and dirty stuff you’d expect from guys who have seen it all and done it all before and came through as champions.
“There’s nothing magic about it but I think this team was really well prepared and it showed,” Talbot admitted in Sunday’s postgame.
Still, it would be a Hell of a thing, and a major disappointment to boot, to see the veteran savvy and turncoat knowledge both guys displayed go to waste in the ensuing rounds of the playoffs. After all, we got them on our side to perform one huge task — to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Problem was, with a matchup so early in the postseason, the stakes were elevated right away, like a poker player knowing he has pocket pair face cards and raising triple the big blind before the flop.
Suddenly it didn’t matter that Jagr, at age 39/40, turned in 19 goals and 54 points over 73 games in his first NHL action since 2008. There was no quarter given for Talbot’s career highs in goals (19), assists (15) and points (34). They had to beat the Penguins, otherwise those numbers and a feeling of rejuvenation that was obvious for both, meant nothing.
Jagr’s role in the opening round was more like the Boogeyman come back to collect a psychological debt from the team he once starred for and then shunned last Summer. With Sidney Crosby’s apparent meltdown, James Neal’s descent into strafing runs and the lack of a calming, steady influence like Hal Gill or Bill Guerin as in 2009, it’s not hard to see how Jagr could have made a difference for the other side, had he chosen it.
No single play in the entire six-game series encapsulated how difficult it was to shake him off than when Pascal Dupuis acted like Jagr’s backpack early in the third period of Game 3, only to see Jagr roll through the right circle and one-hand a pass to Claude Giroux for a goal which put the Flyers up 7-4.
He totaled seven points in the series, and the fact that he scored only one goal can be excused, because it was the go-ahead score in the amazing Game 2 comeback.
Talbot’s impact was more immediate and wrenching. He picked up a pair of shorthanded goals and a power-play score and finished with three points. By and large, he put shackles on the Pens’ power-play unit when he was part of the penalty kill.
He also used his friendships with his former teammates to provide a bit of gamesmanship through the press. Nowhere was that more evident than in the wake of Game 3′s debacle which saw Crosby publicly display his distaste for his opponents and Talbot claim his game similar to the star’s, and also following Sunday’s Game 6, where he hinted that he might exercise a little restraint when seeing his ex-mate Marc-Andre Fleury in the off-season.
But now the beat goes on, and those apparent advantages disappear.
Both Jagr and Talbot need to dig deeper into their postseason bag of tricks with the enemy you know out of commission. One of those tricks is to exercise patience, especially with a roster of young bucks raring to go.
Talbot isn’t champing at the bit to get out there and skate through brick walls. He knows all playoff wins come at a cost and that time off isn’t wasted, but used to heal. And Jagr, with a wonky groin that’s like a time bomb at his age, is surely enjoying the break.
“I take it as a real positive,” said Talbot. “It’s playoffs so obviously some guys are playing with some small injuries and bruises here and there. It’s good to get some rest, refocus, refuel so I really don’t mind that break. Momentum in the playoffs doesn’t really carry from game to game in the playoffs so I don’t think it carries from series to series.”
Another valuable asset is having a short memory for statistics.
Of the Flyers’ potential second-round opponents, their worst record came against the Rangers (0-6-0). Next is the Bruins at 1-1-2 (or 1-3). New Jersey presented a slight problem and the clubs split six games. They were 2-1-1 against Ottawa, while Florida and Washington come out looking the best as Philly went 3-1-0 in the regular season against both.
If it were a consideration, then Jagr’s Pens would have been dead in the water down 3-1 to the Caps and down 2-1 without Mario Lemieux in ’92 against the Rangers. If logic would have followed, then Talbot wouldn’t have wasted his time scoring both goals in Game 7 at Detroit three years ago knowing that the last team to take the Cup on the road in a terminal contest was Montreal at Chicago in 1971.
Like some resurrected English post-grunge band once said, it’s the little things that kill. But having Jagr and Talbot around for the duration means the Flyers stand a great shot at using the maxim against all future opponents — and teaching players like Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn how to use it down the road.