PITTSBURGH — Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington weren't greeted as liberators, nor did anyone roll out the red carpet to greet them. But the Penguins probably never thought they'd be so happy to see a pair of minor-league call-ups as they were Monday.
Now, it would be entirely unfair to confuse Dumoulin and Harrington as Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy riding to the rescue, but it would also be unfair to characterize them as merely warm bodies. A few days ago? That would have sufficed.
But since this is the postseason and, yes, the Penguins are in, they were able to bring in reinforcements for their injury-depleted defense corps thanks to the NHL rule that waives the salary cap in the playoffs.
Enter Dumoulin and Harrington, the Penguins' two top defensemen prospects, who were recalled from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton a day earlier. One, if not both, will likely skate a regular shift on the blueline as a sixth defenseman against the Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. When a defense corps has had to play with just five, as the Penguins did in five of their final seven regular-season games — predictably, losing five of their last six — well, any help is welcome.
"Very," said defenseman Ben Lovejoy. "I had never met either of them. I introduced myself to them this morning and told them how happy all of us as a defense corps were that they were here."
Playing with five defensemen isn't uncommon, but it usually happens when a player is injured and usually only for a period or two — not for a prolonged stretch, not during a playoff chase and not because a team has mangled its salary cap.
Apparently, the novelty of playing with five defensemen and logging more ice time than they were physically capable had worn thin.
"It makes a big difference," Lovejoy said. "Some guys are efficient enough, good enough to play 27 minutes a night. That's never been my role. I feel that I can bring my best hockey playing 18, 19, 20 minutes per night. I can give everything I have. I don’t have to ration energy."
The Penguins' defense can now go on the offensive, something they were unable to do in recent weeks. For a team that has struggled to find the back of the net and hadn't scored more than three goals in a game since March 14, every bit of offense helps.
"Getting that sixth guy will help us just to be able to get back to normal with our 'D' being able to join the rush and able to generate that way too," said center Sidney Crosby.
With the Penguins already without Kris Letang (concussion), Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Olli Maatta (shoulder) and, most recently, Derrick Pouliot (undisclosed), Dumoulin would seem the most logical candidate to play immediately.
In 62 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Dumoulin had four goals and 29 assists and was a plus-25. The 23-year-old, who appeared in eight NHL games this season, played extensively with Taylor Chorney, who was an emergency recall last week after Pouliot went down, in the minors.
"Definitely an opportunity that I've dreamt about and love to have," Dumoulin said. "Everyone wishes they could have helped them out and could have had six 'D' but they couldn't. It's cool to be here and good to be here now."
While the jump from outposts like Hershey, Pa. and Portland, Maine to facing the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden might seem a quantum leap, Harrington says players like himself and Dumoulin can't put too much pressure on himself.
"They've called us up for a reason and that's to play our game," said Harrington, who had 12 points (two goals) in 48 games in the AHL. "That's all they're expecting of us."
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