Making it Interesting

The Pittsburgh Penguins avoided being swept from the playoffs by winning the first two games of their second-round series against the Flyers in Philadelphia, and only one man stands between the Black and Orange and their date with destiny.

Jaromir Jagr? Nah.

Martin Straka? Nope.

If you said Herb Brooks because he already has one hockey miracle to his credit, you’d be incorrect again.

How about that Ron Tugnutt?

That’s right. Ron Tugnutt.

After beating Buffalo and Dominik “The Diver” Hasek like a drum in Round One, the Flyers stumbled in the second-round, getting shut-out in Game One and losing 4-1 in Game Two to … Ron Tugnutt? Hard to believe, Harry, but true. Geez, if you searched the internet for “Journeyman,” would be the first entry returned.

But there he is, this runty little fellow (“He’s so boring,” avers Flyers analyst Ed “The Boxcar” Hospedar, when pressed to say something nice about Tugnutt), giving up just one goal in 73 shots in the first two games. So, for Game Three, Philly Coach Craig Ramsey flipped some switches, dressed veteran D Adam Burt, and teamed him with rookie D Andy Delmore. The result: Flyers win, Flyers win, 4-3, with Delmore potting the overtime winner.

All four Flyers goals were at even-strength (thank you very much, Brother Beck), and all of a sudden Ron Tugnutt looks a whole lot like, well, Ron Tugnutt, and Ramsey looks like a hockey genius. Most important, the Flyers, who coughed up leads of 2-0 and 3-2 before the OT win (snapping a string of 8 straight playoff OT losses) are showing the kind of heart a club needs to go deep into the second season.

Look no farther than LW John LeClair, skating out from behind the net, corraling the puck with one hand while holding off Pens midget Pat Falloon with the other, getting off a quality shot, swatting at the rebound, then gathering himself at the top the slot, rumbling back in on net, and slamming home a perfect set-up from Mark Recchi to put the Flyers up 3-2.

Or how about that rookie G Brian Boucher? Pittsburgh is not a very good hockey team, but they have some very talented Europeans. They don’t get many chances, but the ones they do take are quality, and the fact that Boucher isn’t mumbling to himself is a testament to this kid’s desire. Still and all, the deciding factor in this series is going to be, gulp, Ron Tugnutt. If he can continue his impersonation of Ken Dryden (and believe me, the Flyers can make any goalie look good), the Pens have a chance. More likely, the fatigue factor will set in (how many games can he go facing 40 or more shots) and Tugnutt will become Tugnutt. The smart money is going with Choice B, so sorry if you already ran out and bought a #31 Pens sweater. Check the record.

There’s a good reason Tugnutt has played for five teams in his 13 year career: He’s, uh, not… uhm…. well, he’s not very good. There. I said it, Darren Pang be damned. (By the way, Panger: There’s no cheering in the press box. Jeez, the guy groans when Jagr misses.)

Anyway, back to Tugnutt. Since the Quebec Nordiques drafted him out of juniors in 1987, he has put up a career GAA of 3.22 and .891 save percentage. His six playoff wins this year are twice as many as he has recorded in the rest of his career, and it just doesn’t stand to reason that the Penguins, who are best a mediocre hockey team with one great player, can ride him much farther. After all, he was 0-1-1 against the Flyers this year with a .894 save percentage.

This week’s bonus question

Where does Matthew Barnaby get his hair cut? He looks like a walk-away from the state hospital.

Dr. Steroids

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