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Star Power

Strong ensemble cast carries the Pens to the playoffs

The Stanley Cup is a long way off; the Penguins will have their hands full just beating Ottawa in the first round. But given how this captivating team has already surpassed expectations, it's not too early to fete the players with awards inspired by the Oscars.

First we'll bestow the Meryl Streep Award on Sidney Crosby for being head and shoulders above everybody else on ice. Any time Streep makes a movie, she's guaranteed to be magnificent. In her 2006 effort The Devil Wears Prada, her scenes are delectable, even if the action drags when she's not on screen. She's so good she raises otherwise ordinary talent up to her level. That's what Sid does. Add to that leadership that inspires his teammates, and he deserves more than the Art Ross Trophy.

The Samuel L. Jackson goes to new Penguin Gary Roberts for never backing down from anybody. He always wears his game face and defies the date of birth on his driver's license. I'm betting even money that license is housed in a wallet reading, "Bad Mother--" never mind.

To Jarkko Ruutu, the player who most annoys opposing teams (mostly within the confines of the rules), we present the Simon Cowell Award. He's a non-stop irritant. When they're around him, opposing players act like they're sitting in the backseat next to their kid brother, who keeps breathing on them and putting his foot in their space until they retaliate. Ruutu just keeps poking and poking until somebody blows up.

The Luc Besson prize to Michel Therrien for nailing the affect of The Professional. It doesn't hurt that Therrien looks like he'd be as comfortable at a meeting of the French Resistance as he is on an NHL bench. He smokes, he's miserable, he never changes his facial expression. I love Michel Therrien.

For his precocious achievement in a year when it was likely he'd be sent down to Wilkes-Barre for more seasoning, Jordan Staal wins the Natalie Portman Award. He's still a high-risk driver by most insurance standards, but he's preternaturally unflappable on the ice -- particularly in penalty killing.

For Georges Laraque's surprisingly refined style, the Sean Connery. He arrived touted as a goon, just one step higher on the food chain than Paulie Walnuts. But so far, he's been more Gentleman Jim Corbett than Hanson Brothers: politely waiting with his dukes up like an old-timey boxer, allowing his opponent to ready himself. There are no cheap shots with his stick or dangerous shots from behind. Still, opponents know he is a force to be reckoned with.

The Martin Scorsese Award to Mark Recchi for consistently performing at a high level over the course of a long career. Perhaps his Taxi Driver and Goodfellas days are behind him, but he's shown that he had a Departed-worthy performance left in those old legs this year, ringing up his 500th goal and 800th assist.

Sergei Gonchar's success at reviving his career after a horrible 2005-2006 season earns him the John Travolta. His 67 points and 13 goals are a Pulp Fiction-like comeback. The Pens would not be in the playoffs without Sarge's stellar play.

The Mark Wahlberg goes to Colby Armstrong, for being the guy you'd most like to work with. He can carry a shift if you need him to, but he's selfless enough to play second violin, and even involve Crosby in the game from time to time.

You don't expect gravitas from an actress who got her start on Friends, and you don't expect great play from a guy who was drafted 234th overall. So the Jennifer Anniston Award goes to Maxime Talbot. The guy is a penalty-killing machine, a short-handed goal scorer and has played every shift of every game at the same speed: floor it. He also gets a nod for the Nick Nolte Prize for sporting the best playoff beard this year.

The Nicole Kidman Award goes to the Flower, Marc-Andre Fleury, who is as capable of greatness (think The Hours) as he is of faulty decision-making (think the big-screen version of Bewitched).

And the Sally Field "You like me, you really like me" Prize goes to the whole team, who seems to like the fans as much as we like them.

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