Something we feel we have done well since the Jocelyn Thibault era came to a tearful end last offseason is presenting "eulogies" of former Penguins when their time in black and gold has come to an end. We would've done it in a more timely fashion last week but things were fairly hectic as you might imagine with free agency. With the signings slowing down, we're going to offer the first of our five "eulogies" of the now former Penguins who left last week. Today's is Ty Conklin.
When Ty Conklin came to the Penguins as a free agent signing last July, only the most hardcore of hockey fans probably knew of him in Pittsburgh. And chances are, their only memory of him wasn't good:
Truth be told, most hockey fans outside of Edmonton probably knew Conklin solely for that rough moment in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final in 2006.
Conklin failed to make the NHL Penguins out of training camp and spent the first two months of the season with the AHL Penguins in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. After going 11-7-0 with that team, Conklin got his chance to come back to the NHL when Marc-Andre Fleury injured his ankle Dec. 7. After playing 20 minutes of mop-up duty in an 8-2 loss to the Flyers Dec. 11, Conklin got his first start Dec. 20 in Boston. The game was more renown for Sidney Crosby getting into his first career fight, but Conklin made 37 saves in a 5-4 win. That win would the set into motion events that would secure a place in Penguins history for Conklin.
He would win his next nine consecutive games. One of those wins took place in the most unique game in Penguins history, the Winter Classic. Conklin was the reason they won that game. He made 36 saves while squinting through flurries, wind and bodies in the slot in Orchard Park, N.Y. Seven of those saves took place in an overtime period the Penguins started while killing a penalty. After giving up a goal to Ales Kotalik in the shootout, Conklin stoned Tim Connolly and Maxim Afinogenov and gave Sidney Crosby the chance he needed to win that game on that marvelous day.
That moment was hardly the only bright one in the two-plus months Conklin manned the crease for the Penguins. There was the 29 saves he made against the Sabres in a 2-0 shutout win Dec. 29. There was the 35-save effort he had against the Panthers in a 3-0 Jan. 5. There was the 50 saves he made in a 4-2 win against the Islanders on Long Island Feb. 26 that appeared almost effortless. There was this save Jan. 10 in a 4-1 win at Tampa Bay against Vincent Lecavalier:
Performances like that led to many wondering if Conklin was really the Penguins' true MVP. Some even wondered if Conklin should've been considered as the league's MVP. Others even questioned if Conklin should be the Penguins' starting goaltender regardless of Fleury's health. Fans embraced Conklin due to the fact he came on board through the most humble of fashions for someone in the NHL yet found a way to dominate games at times as if his name were Brodeur or Luongo. He even had a fashionable nickname made popular by The Pensblog which we can't mention in this alleged G-rated forum.
As Conklin was building his legend, the Penguins were without some of their franchise players and just normal every day pluggers. Crosby, Fleury, Mark Eaton and Gary Roberts all missed time while Conklin kept the Penguins in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Some teams like the Senators and Islanders curled up and died when their star players missed time due to injuries. Conklin and Evgeni Malkin wouldn't allow that. They didn't let their team simply tread water either until the Crosbys, Kennedys and Talbots got healthy. They helped lead a squad stocked with AHL talent at times to the Atlantic Division title. Instead of simply being a lifeboat, Conklin served as a yacht for the Penguins.
Conklin eventually came back to earth and Fleury re-claimed his role as the Penguins starting goalkeeper. But for over two months, Ty Conklin was everything to the Penguins.
On a franchise which has a celebrated history of seeing goaltenders such as Frank Pietrangelo, Ken Wregget, Patrick Lalime, Ron Tugnutt and Johan Hedberg come out of seemingly no where to accomplish nearly miraculous feats, Conklin's accomplishments might be the greatest ever by a Penguins netminder pressed into duty by dire circumstances.
(Photo: Getty Images)