PHILADELPHIA — Midway through the third period of Sunday’s Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center, Kris Letang was given a minor penalty for cross-checking Sean Couturier into the net.
The Penguins had an increasingly tenuous one-goal lead. The penalty followed Letang’s giveaway at the Penguins blue line and put the Penguins in a perilous situation. Moments earlier, Jake Guentzel and Jakub Voracek had received coincidental minors, so the teams were playing four-on-four. Letang’s penalty meant a four-on-three Flyers power play.
That’s a lot of open ice for a good power play. The Flyers season was on the line, too.
Letang barked at the officials, his chest and shoulders lurched forward to emphasize the words. He was not happy. After the Penguins survived and advanced with an 8-5 win, I asked Letang about the penalty.
“It was unfortunate the net was there, but if there’s no net there, you see that (type of) play in front of the net,” Letang said.
Then he thought better of what he was about to say. Letang stopped. He looked down. He started and hesitated again. Then something surprising happened.
“Yeah, he was kind of cutting to the net. It was a scoring chance,” Letang suddenly conceded. “They made the right call on that play.”
Feel free to reread the above sentence. It shocked me, too.
After most media raced over to the Guentzel media scrum, I hung with Letang. Perhaps the sudden lack of media, cameras and pointed iPhones allowed the Penguins beleaguered defenseman to breathe.
Maybe I have a soft, welcoming face? OK, maybe not that part.
Letang’s about-face was in part shocking because, on the ice, the defenseman lost his composure. Had the Flyers crowd not roared at the call, Letang’s words would have been audible all the way to Pittsburgh. He barked his displeasure.
I realized that moment in the visiting locker room was Letang coming off the emotion of the game and genuinely considering the context of his actions. Unfortunately, his media time was up and we weren’t allowed to ask about the following trip on Couturier.
Wouldn’t that have been something?
There are few lonelier feelings than being trapped in the penalty box during a crucial situation. The resulting four-on-three power play could have changed the game … and Penguins history, actually.
Letang was very complimentary of the players who killed that penalty and maintained the Penguins lead.
“It was good. When you have guys like (Tom) Kuhnhackl, Riley Sheahan, who can block shots, that are long,” Letang said. “They can skate really well. So, they were pretty good out there.”