Penguins Pass The Adversity Test

It’s not all gonna be rainbows and sunny days out there ladies and gentleman.

While it may have looked like that so far being up 3-0, it’s still definitely not over until that 4th win has been had. It was nice though for the Penguins to face a little adversity in how they came about winning game 3 in Columbus.

The playoffs are horrendously rough at times, if you don’t think so just take a look at Zach Wewrenki’s face after he blocked Phil Kessel’s shot.

Games 1 and 2 weren’t a breeze but they for sure weren’t the toughest battles that have been fought out there on the ice. There will be tougher paths ahead, sometimes when the plans been to nice for you, its tough to find your game again after you get punched in the mouth. Finally faced with the slightest of adversity, the Pens showed that they know how to surpass that and not tail into negatives.

That opening punch happened 11 seconds into the game. The Penguins tied it up shortly after: That’s adversity.

Down 3-1 after the 1st with a rocking building abundantly against them, they were all square at 3 one the 2nd period horn sounded. That’s passing a test of adversity.

Even when grabbing the lead an unfortunate bounce that should have been a stoppage play lead to the Blue Jackets tying it up did they crumble? No, in fact the youngest of talent on this team lead them through.

The start of the series was wonderful but that’s not how playoff hockey goes, it’s just not. Pittsburgh wasn’t behind in the score until 3 games, but the Penguins now know that any lead is able to come back.

Not every matchup will go there way, people will struggle and puck luck won’t be in their corner all the time. You gotta learn how to roll with the punches and overcome difficult flurries, the Pens showed that last game and I think that won’t be the last we see their resiliency.

The Penguins can gut it out anywhere and get the garbage dirty goals. Though they’re a team that can make highlights, not every goal will be sexy. Numerous guys will need to be the hero 1 night make a positive impact, we viewed this with a Jake Guentzel hat trick.

Willingness to win and put in all you have leads to the victory of attrition, I’m talking Marc-Andre Fluery making head saves and Bryan Rust continuing playoff acceleration of the largest level. Everyone player on the roster has it in them.

Test 1 of adversity was passed but were only on the opening page, there is more. Now they to show a killer mentality and put away Columbus now. The Pens have their hands around the opponent’s throats now you just have to crush it and send them on their way. Like Kevin Nealon’s character talking to Happy Gilmore, “you’re almost there, now just put the ball in it’s home”. The Penguins could always use rest, how sweep would it be to get that by winning now in the 4th game.

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Pens vs CBJ 2014 vs. 2017: What’s Different This Time Around?

The Penguins currently sit up 3-0 in the 1st round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs over Metropolitan Division Rival Columbus. The Penguins and Blue Jackets have faced each other in the playoffs once before, and in 2014, the Penguins won that series 4-2. But this time around, this whole series feels different. It was anticipated to be one of the closest series in the playoffs, maybe even the toughest in the East. So how have the Penguins managed to get up 3-0 over a Blue Jackets team that is better this year than they were in 2014. I’ve got two real reasons why:

The Flower

Yep, Marc-Andre Fleury is one reason. In 2014, Fleury was still going through his playoff yips that last way too long. He was a bit more solid than his years where we was letting in beach balls in a first-round exit against Philadelphia or when he got benched in favor of a Tomas Vokoun that was past his prime. He had a mediocre .912 save percentage in the series and gave up some really bad goals. He really only had one solid game, where he stopped 23 of 24 shots in game five.

This time around, Fleury has been thrust into the starting role when Matt Murray reaggravated a groin injury in warm ups for game one. Fleury has answered the call and had two really solid games at home, then started game three a bit shaky, but finished solid and made a game-saving save with his head in overtime. He’s got a .945 save percentage in three games. He’s a big reason why the Penguins are on the verge of a sweep, and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy. 

Same Game, Different Result

The Blue Jackets are a physical team, and they’ve brought the fight again this series. In both 2014 and 2017, they’ve wanted to push the Penguins around and irritate them and rattle them. The Penguins gave in to the Columbus tactics in 2014, most notably, Brandon Dubinsky really getting under Sidney Crosby‘s skin most of the series. 2017 has seen Columbus try the same thing. Now even though the Penguins won in six games in 2014, why did it feel like the Penguins lost that series and it feels like the Penguins may actually sweep a series that was predicted by many to go the distance? 

Enter Mike Sullivan

We saw Sullivan really send a simple, two-worded message to his players last year: just play. And it was a big reason why the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Teams like New York and Washington didn’t scare them. It didn’t matter if it was a bigger team that was going to punch you in the mouth or if it was a team built on lightning-fast speed like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh was just going to play their game. The Penguins are replicating that this time around, and Columbus at times looks like they’ve forgotten that these are actually hockey games for a few minutes. Dubinsky isn’t rattling Crosby, Calvert’s illegal assault of Tom Kuhnhackl didn’t rattle them, and it just seems like Columbus is tiring themselves out in trying to beat up the Penguins. They came out flying in game three, pretty much running on pure adrenaline, but it was at a pace they couldn’t sustain. They’re not built for it. They’re built to beat teams up and grind them down. The Penguins aren’t giving in and taking the bait, and now they are one win from advancing. Thank you Mike Sullivan. 

Expect Columbus to come out and try several different things tonight. They’re backs are up against the wall and will be playing desperate hockey. Even if Columbus wins tonight, and barring a miracle comeback, 2017 has shown just how much the Penguins have grown up in three years. Again, thank you Mike Sullivan. 

What Blue Jackets Team Shows Up In Game 4?

The Penguins had an amazing comeback victory on Easter Sunday against the Blue Jackets in overtime.

It was an amazing character win for the team and showed resiliency and effort.

But with that win, more importantly, comes a 3-0 series lead against the Jackets. The Jackets have played tough but only had control in a game during the first period of game three.

That lead faded and the Penguins got another win. But can the Jackets pull off an amazing comeback in the series?

NO, because the Penguins are getting the bounces and have the correct mentality for winning.

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been bad in the playoffs and defenseman Zach Werenski is out with a facial fracture. This loss will be too much to overcome for a team already inneed of winning four straight games.

With key players either out or performing poorly, that’s a recipe for disaster if you’re the Jackets.

The Pens could wrap up the series in game 4 but have the luxury of only needing 1 more win over the next 4 games.

I believe the Pens will win game 4 or, at worst, game 5. 

LET’S GO PENS

Enjoy the Toronto vs Crapitols series!

Calvert’s Cross Check Out of Line

There’s been a lot of hitting so far this playoff season.  The Edmonton Oilers (particularly Matt Kassian) are pounding the San Jose Sharks around.  The usually low key Ottawa Senators are keeping pace with the Boston Bruins in the hit department. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens averaged a combined 43 hits during the regular season, but in game one combined for 98.  In game two, the Rangers alone threw 74 hits out of the 129 between them.  Let’s just say the physical play has been ramped up big time in pretty much every series.

Pittsburgh and Columbus have been no different, with over 80 hits in game two. There’s one noticeable difference though in this series. The venom behind the contact. The disrespect. There’s been a few questionable hits league wide as far as leaving the feet a little or maybe getting a little overzealous in the force behind a push.  But I’ve really noticed in almost every game that even with the cross checking in front to clear the crease, you can tell that’s what it is. The players push and push hard, but once the area is cleared and the danger is over, the pushing stops. It’s gritty, tough checking, no inch given, playoff hockey. Every team seems to know it except for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

There wasn’t any one huge incident or any one player to pick out during game one and most of game two. There was just something about the way the Blue Jackets players carry themselves when they hack and check. I can’t even put my finger on it, but you could just tell something was going to happen.

The Penguins aren’t angels, but they are playoff experienced and tend to calmly shutdown after the whistle and walk away. The Jackets have had their scoring chances and haven’t much to show for it, so you can see why they’d be frustrated. You can see a cross check or a big hit getting a little out of control with the emotion. Like I said, that’s happened across the board so far.  But the reaction by the offending player has always been “uh oh. whoops.” And to the players’ credit, the reaction of the victim in these cases so far has also always been “I know you didn’t mean that. It’s just a battle gotten a little out of control. If it happens again I’ll have to do something, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one.”

What Matt Calvert of the Jackets did last night was nothing like this. In the dying seconds of a game that clearly has gotten away, he broke his stick over Tom Kuhnackl’s head like so:

Maybe the stick broke a little easily and made it look worse. Maybe he meant to get his shoulder. I could give him the benefit of the doubt too, if he didn’t react the way he did.  The worst part about this is for him to see Kuhnackl clearly rattled and bent over. Even if he meant to get him in the shoulder, it’s obvious he didn’t. If he had just reacted in a different way, like a glove up in apology, or to even just skate away with a sympathetic look. But knowing he did break his stick over someone’s head, to then wave his arm in a “get over it” motion, and then to turn back around and immediately clock the defenceless, vulnerable, and hunched over injured player with a head shot is beyond unacceptable.

Anyone looking at this now knows:

a)you must have meant to cross check the head because you seem fine with it.

b)You showed no remorse for injuring someone.

c)You obviously meant to injure them because you went back and hit them again to make sure.

The cross check alone is a suspendable offence. The head shot to the injured and defenceless Kuhnackl alone is also a suspendable offence. So combined I’m hoping to see Calvert gone for the remainder of the first round. If we base it on history, though, Dubinsky only got one game for playing Crosby’s ear like a violin, so likely at most this will be two games.

That’s why we’ll continue to see this type of thing from the Blue Jackets going forward. I just hope if the Pens do win the series, there’s enough of them left to play the rest of the way.

 

 

Marc-Andre Fleury Now Under The Spotlight

If game one didn’t test the average Penguins fan’s nerves pregame, then one might question if they’re even a fan as Matt Murray was injured in warmups.

Marc-Andre Fleury was forced to step in and fill the hole left by the Murray injury. Thankfully, Tristan Jarry was kept on the roster with the Penguins brass obviously worried that Murray had a lingering issue with his leg.

With head coach Mike Sullivan‘s announcement that Murray has “no timetable for a return”, this leaves Fleury and Jarry to be the goalie tandem for the foreseeable future.

All indications point to it being some sort of groin injury for Murray based upon the way he was treating the injury and the trouble he had standing. If this is the case, there is the potential that Murray may not return for the rest of the playoffs.

If you’ll remember, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick sustained a groin injury in the Kings season opener on October 12th. He did not return from the injury until 59 games later on February 25th. His injury was so bad that he could’ve undergone surgery but opted against it. The extent of Murray’s injury is unknown so to say Murray may not be ready for 3-4 months is unnecessary. Groin injuries for goalie’s, and anyone for that matter, are a very tricky thing to deal with.

Into the spotlight goes Fleury.

Fleury is one of the most polarizing sports figures in Pittsburgh today. Many people view him as an integral part of the 09′ Stanley Cup team and applauded him for his role as the backup since the Finals last season. Others hate his guts and won’t forget his meltdown in the Penguins-Flyers playoff series a few years ago coupled his iffy career playoff numbers.

One thing can’t be disputed: Fleury might be the most important piece to a potential repeat if Murray can’t return. The Penguins are going to score goals. They did last season and they led the NHL in goals per game this season. But the career .906 save percentage in the playoffs will have fans wondering if Fleury’s game one was purely based on adrenaline or if he has truly exorcised his playoff demons and can be successful in the postseason. Pittsburgh doesn’t need another Neil Walker type playoff performer.

Fleury doesn’t have to worry much about being replaced, either.

Last season, the Penguins saw enough of Murray to be confident with either goalie. They don’t have that luxury with Jarry. He’s played one NHL game and did it with the most AHL-ridden team the Penguins have used in years. Don’t get me wrong, if Jarry has to play than the Penguins aren’t in horrible hands. He’s played very well through all levels of the minors and was originally touted as the better prospect between himself and Murray.

But hindsight is 20/20. No one knows exactly what they’re going to get with a young goaltender who basically has never played in an actual NHL game.

With goaltending being something that requires a very focused mentality any goalie would be much more relaxed knowing they don’t have someone breathing down their neck for extra playing time. We’ve seen it for years. Fleury’s last two seasons were two of his best seasons ever. His backup goalie was Jeff Zatkoff for better part of both of those season’s. With Murray taking the starting job this season, Fleury’s numbers dropped dramatically.

And even if Murray gets healthy before the playoffs, it’s tough to pull out a hot goalie in the postseason. More often than not, goaltending can be the reason a team wins the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. If Fleury is playing well enough to stay in and he’s playing confident, he won’t be worried about who’s behind him on the depth chart.

Unless Fleury has one of the best postseason’s in NHL history, it’s a formality that Murray is the Penguins goaltender of the future. The Pens are built to win now and can win for years to come. If Fleury gives the Penguins the chance to win now, then the Penguins can ride him, thank him for his services, and trade him at his restored trade value to the highest bidder.

But he’s got to get to that point first. Fleury, the Penguins’ longest tenured player, will worry about his future in the offseason. If he has the opportunity to win a third Stanley Cup in four tries while being a part of the Penguins, he’ll gladly carry that with him to his next employer.

For now, the spotlight shines bright upon that farewell tribute goalie helmet. He wants to do nothing more than make those guys proud for a third time.

How The Penguins Can Take A 2-0 Series Lead

First off, RIP Mr. Dan Rooney. You’ll be missed not only by yinzers but by everyone you influenced throughout your life. 

Now, onto the Penguins like how Mr. Rooney would’ve wanted.

The Penguins are a very good hockey team and they will look to take a 2-0 series lead over Columbus on Friday night. Here’s how they can do it.

The Pens can increase their series lead by doing alot of the same things that they did in game 1.

They played hard and had great goaltending. This team will be only as good as their goaltending is.

Marc-Andre Fleury will be in net again and put together a great start on Wednesday as he was thrust in due to Matt Murray‘s injury.

The Pens need to play a full 60 minutes this time, though, as they struggled playing in the first. If the Pens play like they did in that 2nd period in game one then I expect another great outcome. If they pass well and move the puck out of their zone quickly then the Pens will win and make it a 2-0 series heading to Columbus.

Now, if the Pens struggle, especially in the goaltending column, then expect a different result.

The Penguins need to focus on keeping the pressure on the Blue Jackets and just take the hit and use their speed to get away. Now if they let Columbus get under their skin and the Pens don’t play their fast game, then outcome may be different.

The Pens have to keep focus on the task at hand and ignore the bully style that Columbus plays. Keep a level head and expect good results. They earned that last year.

My prediction is a 3-2 win for the Pens. I expect a close game but for the Pens to play with the right mindset and head to Columbus with a 2-0 in the series.

Best Chance to Repeat Since ’98 and the Keys To Do It

The question is out there, “Can the Penguins be the first team to repeat since the 97/98 Red Wings?”. That answer is simple, it’s an absolute YES!

But in recent news, Kris Letang will miss all of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in yesterday’s warmups Matt Murray tweaked something and may be out as well. So now the question is, “Can the Penguins do it without those players?” Once again, the answer is simple, absolutely! But there will have to be a few key factors that come into play in order to do so. Here is what the Pens will need to happen, in order to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. I guarantee one of these might surprise you.

  1. The oldest cliché in playoff hockey is, your best players have to be your best players to go far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Penguins are going to repeat, Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Shultz, Daley, Fleury/Murray must be on their game. These are the Penguins best players in their positions. If they are non-existent in games/series or a non-factor often, it will be an early exit for the Black and Gold. After game 1 these players had an excellent start at being the players they need to be. While Crosby didn’t register a point in the game, he created numerous chances and was definitely a challenge to defend for the Blue Jackets. Malkin looked rested and like he hasn’t missed a beat, while Fleury stole the show. If Fleury continues to start, expect much of the same from him. As for Phil Kessel, he’s clearly a gamer and takes pride in rising to the occasion.
  2. The Carl Hagelin factor. The Swedish speedster is currently recovering from a concussion earlier in the season, but could return soon. While Hagelin has never scored more than 17 goals in a season, last year he put up 16 points in 27 playoff games. But it is not scoring prowess that makes Hagelin an important part of a successful Penguins playoff team. Hagelin’s biggest asset is his speed. The speedster is amongst the top 5 fastest players in the NHL without a doubt. While I believe, the Pens can get through the first round without him, the next three rounds will be tough without him. Speed is the identity of the Penguins and Hagelin has that in spades. The Swede’s speed forces defenders back on the rush, it forces players to make quicker and unwarranted decisions with the puck, and it creates space for his teammates. These factors will be highly important in later rounds as the teams get tougher. The turnovers that Hagelin creates plays directly into the puck possession game that is the Penguins identity. Can the Pens make it without him? Absolutely, but Hags will make it easier for sure.
  3. Just play! Coach Mike Sullivan’s message to the team since his hiring has been has been “Just play”. No matter what happens, no matter who’s in the lineup, no matter the refs, no matter what building/city they are in, just play the game hard and never give up. Not only has this been the message from the coaching staff but always been the message from captains Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins Two-Head Monster always play hard and are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the team. That type of leadership has a trickledown effect though out the team. And in during this season the team has had its fair share of adversities. Players injured, goaltending controversy, minor league players playing bigger roles, and they’ve dealt with them all by just playing. It’s hard to find any team in the league that deals with challenges and adversity the way the Penguins organization does. It’s near impossible to find another team in the NHL that is as resilient as the Penguins are in game time situations as well. The Pens just play and to successfully repeat, they will have to continue to abide by that mantra.
  4. A little puck luck. No team has won the Stanley Cup ever, without a little luck. Anyone who’s name is etched on the fable chalice will tell you the same. Some days the puck just isn’t bouncing in your favor, but the one fortuitous bounce can change a game or series. In recent memory of Pens cup runs, Max Talbot gets beat up and shushes the crowd, Marc-Andre Fleury double pushed across instead of one big push, Crosby calls a play and Letang makes it work just to name a few. Sometimes the hockey Gods will just have to shine down upon the team when things normally wouldn’t work or go right. If the Penguins get a few of these moments, good things will happen.

The threat down the middle for the reigning champs + two number one goaltenders + all kinds of secondary scoring capabilities + defense by committee + speed + resiliency = a recipe to repeat for the Pittsburgh Penguins. No team in the modern era has been kept the majority of its cup winning team together the following season. The Pens have and that will be dangerous for their opponents. If anyone can repeat, the Penguins can.

Good Talk… See ya out there!

Follow me (@BenchBossx2) on twitter to talk hockey anytime. #LetsGoPens #BecauseItsTheCup

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