Our Pittsburgh Penguins have found themselves four wins away from lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the second time in seven years. Are you ready?
Hello all it’s been awhile since you have heard from us here at The Pitt Blog, but there is no better time then now to come back.
So how did the Penguins get here?
First Pittsburgh defeated the New York Rangers in 5 games
In the First Round the Penguins, led by 21 year old rookie goaltender Matt Murray, didn’t just find a way to defeat the Rangers, but found a way to take control of a series and never let go.
Next Pittsburgh defeated the Washington Capitals in 6 games
Heading into the second round the Washington Capitals, favored to win the Stanley Cup by many, were riding high after a tremendous regular season. However, Pittsburgh once again found a way to win in this series despite the loss of Olli Maatta for a few games, the loss of Kristopher Letang for one game and the solid goal-tending of The Capital’s net-minder Braden Holtby.
And then Pittsburgh defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in 7 games.
Making their way back to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Penguins biggest test thus far was right in front of them in the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Somehow, despite losing All-Star Center Steven Stamkos just prior to the start of the post season, the Bolts found a way to come together and make an impressive run on the backs of young, yet experienced, players like Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Druoin.
Ben Bishop their Vezina Finalist goalie unfortunately got hurt early in Game 1 and while many thought that would have been the final blow to the team, 21 year old Vasilevskiy stepped in and stood on his head to help lead the team to a 3 games to 3 tie.
And despite both the Pens and the Bolts relying on 21 year old goalies and despite the Penguins losing one of their top defenders to injury, this series became one for the ages. A series the Penguins found a way to win.
What Helped them get Here?
With everything the Penguins have gone through we must always remember that each series has their ebbs and flows, each series has its story and each series has its heroes.
With that said these are the biggest stories and heroes thus far.
Heading into the 2016 Playoffs there was no bigger talk about the Penguins than the “HBK” line. The line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel. Built with speed, skill and grit, the HBK line has become a staple of what Mike Sullivan’s Pittsburgh Penguins are built on. This threesome has totaled 45 points in 18 games, Bonino with 15, Hagelin with 12 and Kessel with 18…. WOW!
Gimme Phil gimme fire gimme that which I desire!
All that has been talked about with the HBK line, the big man, Phil Kessel has been a PHENOMENAL playoff performer thus far in his career. 9 goals and 9 assists so far this year is good enough for being a point per game player.(Side note he has 39 points in 40 playoff games in his career.. WOW!)
I will admit I wasn’t sold on this trade last summer. But man have I ever been more willing to hear “I told you so.” from so many.
Keeping with the HBK line I cannot forget to mention Nick Bonino. GM Rutherford swapped, fan favorite player, Brandon Sutter for, unproven, Nick Bonino not long ago. Many were concerned that he wouldn’t be able to fill the shoes left by Sutter, and honestly through this past season it seemed that trade may have been a bust. Until he found himself centering a line with Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel.
in 63 games Bonino’s stats weren’t bad (29 points in 63 games) but they weren’t what we hoped. However in 18 games of the playoffs he has 15 points! Quite the turn around for sure.
Mark Madden of WXDX said he spoke with Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy recently and asked about the play of Nick Bonino and he said something along the lines that Bonino is versatile, you put him with goal scorers, he will help score goals, you put him with 4th line grinders, he will be a strong grinder. (not exact wording)
Well whatever it is, KEEP IT UP BONES!
Essentially the third line of the Penguins for the past 3-4 games of the playoffs; Malkin, Kunitz and Rust have found something special just like the HBK line.
The speed of Rust, the skill of Malkin and the grinding of Kunitz has worked well together and seemed to just get better and better with each game played as a group.
Pens were feeling a bit Rusty against the Bolts
Bryan Rust, the first rookie that will be mentioned here, has found a way to lift his play in big moments. All successful teams need these players and Rust may just be the Penguins guy. 5 goals this post-season after going 41 games of the regular season scoring only 4.
But what truly makes Rust so impressive right now is the fact 3 of those goals came in possible elimination games 1 of which was a game winning goal.
(side note: he joined a special list of rookies with a multi-goal game in a game 7 of the playoffs)
Finally what can be said that hasn’t been said already about rookie goalie sensation Matt Murray?
He hasn’t been spectacular, he quite possibly only had one REALLY strong game, but what he has done is bring a strong sense of calmness to this Penguins squad.
He is calm and cool, he has come up big when it has mattered most and he will continue to do so.
Will he be the goalie in net in the final game of the playoffs? I really couldn’t tell you, but Marc-Andre Fleury, despite his struggles in game 5, is not too shabby of a back-up right now.
Murray has done more then was ever expected of him, and for that there is no reason to ever be disappointed in what happens from this point on.
There is still one more series to win, there is still one more team they have to overcome. And when asked about the team Coach Sullivan said only what could be said about these Penguins.
“They have become a team in the truest sense of the word. I couldn’t be more proud… but we aren’t done yet.”
Thanks for reading and “Let’s Go Pens!”
– Robert Slavinsky