Back From The Dead?
Gary Roberts pictured a soft landing back in Toronto or with rival Ottawa at last year's trade deadline.
Both teams were on his approved list of destinations when the Florida Panthers shopped the veteran winger around the NHL before last year's trade deadline, and it took some prodding once general manager Jacques Martin completed a deal with the Penguins before Roberts agreed to take his act to Pittsburgh.
Enjoying a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in what could be the last of his 20 NHL seasons, the 42-year-old Roberts is as happy with the Steel City as Pittsburgh's fans are with the hard-hitting forward, who still has plenty of spunk left in a body that often has broken down.
``I haven't played tons of hockey this year, so now that I'm feeling like I've got my health back, I'm just trying to bring some energy and create some scoring chances for my linemates,'' Roberts said Friday. ``At this point, whatever you can contribute you try to contribute and help the team win.''
Roberts has been one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the series and will be counted on again Saturday when the Penguins try to get even 2-2 with Detroit in the finals.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Pittsburgh –113 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 5 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on Detroit +103 (View NHL Bet Percentages).
The Red Wings, who spent the first of two consecutive off days Thursday bonding at a resort about two hours outside of Pittsburgh, have other ideas. After a pair of home shutouts to open the series, Detroit is looking to get out of town with a win.
That would set up a potential clinching party at home in Game 5 on Monday.
``Well 3-1 sounds a lot better than 2-2 to us,'' forward Kris Draper said. ``While they have the one mind-set that they want to tie this series up, we're looking for a split. If we can do that, we'll feel like we've accomplished something here in Pittsburgh.''
One concern for Detroit is the health of forward Tomas Holmstrom, perhaps the best puck-tipper and goalie screener in the NHL. Holmstrom injured a hamstring in Game 3 and is questionable for Saturday. He will test the leg Saturday and make a decision, but all signs point to him being in the lineup.
Roberts has had an impact since getting in on the action starting in Game 2. He raced around the ice like a steamroller during a key third-period shift on Wednesday, leading to Adam Hall's goal that prove to be the Game 3 winner.
``He's a guy that can go out there and really give you momentum with a big hit or creating that energy that you need,'' Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. ``When he's out there, every guy on the ice knows it.''
Roberts had to wait a game to get his crack at the Red Wings. After a string of injuries stemming from a broken leg in December, Roberts also missed the final three games of the Eastern Conference finals due to a bout with pneumonia.
When he learned he wouldn't play in the opener of the Cup finals, even though he was recovered from all the ailments, Roberts stewed but managed to refrain from fully unleashing his disappointment and anger. When it's been 19 years since your only Stanley Cup championship, you don't want to wait another minute to compete for another one.
After Pittsburgh's 4-0 loss in the series opener, Roberts rejoined the lineup and made his presence felt.
He brings energy, excitement and an edge that at best toes the line of clean play. Roberts drew the ire of Red Wings fans in Joe Louis Arena when he caught previously injured forward Johan Franzen in the face with his gloved hand. Franzen, who had just returned after missing six games due to concussion-like symptoms, dropped to the ice and stayed down for some time but was back for his next shift.
He and Roberts would later take roughing penalties, and for teams that hadn't played in the regular season, a rivalry was quickly born.
``I pretty much know my role whatever line I'm on and that is be the first man in on the forecheck, creating some loose pucks, getting some pucks to the net, and taking the body,'' Roberts said. ``It doesn't change much for me.''
What did change was his view of Pittsburgh. Roberts cited the way he was treated by teammates and adoring fans for his decision to re-sign with the Penguins last summer.
On a team full of stars like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, and even young goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, it was Roberts' name that was chanted in Mellon Arena on Wednesday during the Penguins' first Stanley Cup finals victory in 16 years.
``Dirty Gary, huh? It's awesome,'' Penguins forward Maxime Talbot said. ``I love when the crowd goes for Gary. I think he's a legend in here. I wouldn't want to play against this guy. He's throwing checks out there. He's giving momentum. He's always giving 110 percent. He's Gary.
``You look at him after a goal or something, during the celebration, and you look in his eyes and you're kind of scared, like, 'Oh my God, that guy's intense.' And it's great.''
Signs inside the old hockey rink ask ``What would Gary Roberts Do (WWGRD).'' The answer always is play the game with a fierce competitiveness.
``He's a tough guy to play against,'' Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. ``I'm glad I have Gary in my lineup and not playing against him. You look at the winning goal, he's the one that put the pressure to the defenseman. We ended up picking up the puck. He's been there. He's got experience.
``The young guys rely on him a lot. They ask him a lot of questions. He's a good leader, and always has a good attitude.''
Roberts was 23 and in his third NHL season when he won his only Stanley Cup title back in 1989 with Calgary. Now that his career is racing toward the end, adding another title to a career that has produced 434 goals and 903 points in the regular season would be quite a capper.
``I look at 1989 and I look at guys like Brian MacLellan, and Jim Peplinski, and Timmy Hunter. They were big parts of our team that weren't in our lineup during the playoff rounds,'' he said. ``They were right there holding the Cup at the end of it and were as big a part of it as anybody.
``That's kind of the route I'm trying to take. Just be part of it. Be good when you're out there and take advantage of the opportunity because deep down I know that this is probably the last time for me.''
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