Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sid’s not a kid anymore, and he cherishes every chance

The best player in the world acknowledges that "time goes fast" as he chases another prize.
May 30, 2017
Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins plays in the third period of Game One of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on May 29, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvannia. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH—It was a Tuesday and Sidney Crosby was on the ice in a rink tucked into the hills north of Pittsburgh, and he was smiling. Grinning to beat the band, really. There weren’t a lot of Penguins on the ice, because this team is 102 games into a season, one year after a season that also stretched into June. By this time of the year bodies are chewed up, emotional batteries hard to access, and it is about survival. But Sidney Crosby was on the ice, because he was having fun.
“I just felt pretty good, and I haven’t been skating a lot on game day, and sometimes it’s nice,” said Crosby, one day after the Pittsburgh Penguins won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final over the Nashville Predators. “They’re not that difficult of skates when you only have four guys out there and you’re able to touch the puck a little bit more. Yeah, sometimes it’s more beneficial if you get out there for that.”
It wasn’t boot-camp intense. It was an optional skate, and at this stage almost every regular takes the option not to be there. Crosby was. It was some 2-on-1 rushes, some skating and shooting, and finally some 1-on-1 work with his old friend, Marc-Andre Fleury. On one breakaway rush Crosby shot the puck and it flipped into the air, and Crosby tracked it and popped it from his glove to his stick and into the back of the net. Rinkside, a small crowd of reporters burst into incredulous laughter, and Fleury shot a puck into their corner. Afterwards, I went to Fleury and said that if he was angry, we weren’t laughing at him.
“No, no, not at all,” said Fleury, his face blooming into a smile. “I know: The one with his glove and back up to his stick? I laughed too. Not laughed. But said, ‘Wow.’ I appreciated it. He did that like four times in the game last night.”
He and Crosby have done this for years. “I get to work against the best player in the world,” Fleury said. Crosby has defined this era, and every attempt to compare other players to him has become more laughable with time. As Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson said after Pittsburgh outlasted the Senators in the conference final, “I think he’s the best player in the world and he has been for 10-plus years, and I wish him all the best . . . They won last year but they’re not satisfied with that, and I think that that’s impressive, and I think that what they’re doing right now is really special.”
Crosby will turn 30 this summer, and he still approaches hockey with a drive that never stops. Penguins defenceman Kris Letang spoke on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing season-ending neck surgery, and he said, “Just the way, the little details that he brings to every game, on and off the ice. He’s just an example to follow. You’ve seen it: We won (the Cup last season), and we had a couple chats, and he really wanted to get in shape right away to get ready for the World Cup, win the World Cup, and come back and say we can win this again, we have a lot of young guys, we have a lot of energy. So that’s everything: the details, what he wants to accomplish, it’s pretty incredible.”
It is a career built from big things, and little things. Crosby habitually gets out early in full practices to work on his shot, and he led the league in goals this season for only the second time in his career. He works on everything, which is why as a player he is almost a shapeshifter, year to year. With Fleury on Tuesday, Crosby worked on deflections, and every time the puck skittered up above his head he looked for it, so he could bat that puck out of the air, too. Sometimes he did. He grinned and laughed and found ways to put the puck past his old friend.
We appreciate him, but maybe not enough. On media day Evgeni Malkin spoke at a podium next to Sid, and he said, “like Gretzky say one day about Messier: it’s like small competition every day between him and Messier, and it’s good, because they’re better every day. Like, who’s better today? Who’s better tomorrow? You know, I don’t want to be No. 1 in Carolina or something — I don’t want to say bad about (Carolina) — but I want to be better every day, because Sid, every practice, he is so much professional guy, like most professional I’ve ever seen. And I want to be the same, I want to be professional too. I want to be better with him.”
And on a Tuesday in May, Crosby was out there when he didn’t have to be. His teammate Matt Cullen said he had never seen Sid more determined and committed than he is this year; he said, “I don’t think there’s any question that he can sense where we’re at, and has a real strong grasp on the history of the game.
“I know just being around Sid and talking to Sid how much this means to him. He’s just a unique competitor. They don’t come along very often, these generational talents. I think to go along with that, he has a drive that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere. I think that, ultimately, is what’s gotten him to the point that he’s at.”
Crosby has been through wins and losses and seasons lost to concussions, and he said, “There’s a lot of motivating factors. Maybe [history is] one of them, but that’s not something you constantly think about. I think you’re fortunate to be back here, and it’s a great opportunity.”
He also said, “Time goes by fast.” And it does. Maybe the point isn’t that Crosby is driven by his past so much as his future. Maybe it’s that he has always been driven by something unseen, and now he knows there are only so many chances left because they vanish, year by year.
And beyond that, the work is where he feels happy, where it remains fun. In Washington, the Capitals are opening the door to trading Alexander Ovechkin, whose season ended in another heartbreak, another loss. And on a Tuesday morning in late May, Sidney Crosby strapped on his skates and chased something again, something smaller and bigger, filled with determination and commitment, and even joy.

Three-time Stanley Cup winner Kunitz hungry for more

May 30, 2017
Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and P.K. Subban #76 of the Nashville Predators battle in Game One of the NHL Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on May 29, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/NHLI via Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH — Three is not enough.
That has been the mantra Chris Kunitz has carried with him into these playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins veteran, who is coming off the worst season of his career in what is the final year of his contract, has won more championships than any other player remaining in the post-season. But he’s still hungry for more.
He wants one ring for every finger on his right hand. And then some.
So the current three that Kunitz has already won with two teams (Anaheim in 2007 and Pittsburgh in 2009 and 2016) are not enough. The question is whether winning a fourth will be, at least when it comes to gaining entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The answer is probably no. But it’s an interesting question.
No current player in the NHL has won four Stanley Cups. The last two to do it, Nicklas Lidstrom and Patrick Roy, are not only in the Hall of Fame, but were amongst the top-100 players as announced by the league this year.
And yet, Kunitz’s somewhat improbable career, which has included an Olympic gold medal and a first-team all-star selection, is more difficult to define.
Kunitz , who went undrafted and was twice claimed off waivers, has scored 250 goals and 580 points in 884 career games. He was a Duck back when they were Mighty and a Thrasher before they moved to Winnipeg. He has never won an Art Ross, Hart, Rocket Richard or any other major individual trophy. He hasn’t even been a finalist.
But when it comes to the playoffs, few have a better resume than the 37-year-old.
In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, Kunitz added to his list of post-season accomplishments by picking up a pair of assists in a 5-3 win against the Nashville Predators. In the process, he moved into 16th place on the active scoring list with 27 goals and 88 points in 156 games.
“I think it's not by accident that he has the amount of Stanley Cup rings that he has,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “He's a high-stakes player. He's a fierce competitor. When the games become most important, he is at his very best.”
After scoring nine goals and 29 points this season and then missing the first round of the playoffs with a lower-body injury, Kunitz has seen more time on the fourth line than the top line. But in both roles, he’s found ways to be effective.
It was Kunitz who put on his hard hat and infuriated the Washington Capitals with so-called “predatory” hits in the second round of the playoffs. In the following round, he used his scorer’s touch to snipe the double-OT winner in Game 7 of the conference final against the Ottawa Senators.
“Well, the thing that I really love about Kuny is that he’s the consummate team guy,” said Sullivan. “He does whatever we ask. We've played him in different roles throughout the course of this year. Sometimes we've played him in a top-six role, on a power play. Other times we've played him in a bottom-six role. He's helped our penalty kill.
“Whatever we ask of him as a coaching staff, he embraces. That's what we've really grown to love about Kuny and respect about him, is he's all about helping the team win.”
In Game 1, Kunitz was back playing on the top line with Sidney Crosby. And once again, he was helping his team win. With the Penguins ahead 1-0 in the first period, Kunitz took a pass from Crosby and while looking in one direction slid over a pass the opposite way to Conor Sheary for a wide-open one-timer.
“It was a great play,” said Crosby. “Usually, guys are shooting when they get the puck in that area. He did a great job of keeping his head up. I think he knew that (Sheary) was going to find the open ice there, so it was a great look. Big goal as far as keeping that momentum.”
The bigger assist, of course, might have come in the final minute of the third period. With Nashville down a goal and pressing for the equalizer, it was Kunitz who won a puck battle along the boards and then found Nick Bonino for an outlet pass on an empty-net goal.
“How do you not love a guy like that?” asked Penguins defenceman Trevor Daley. “He’s going for his fourth Cup. Guys like that, I played against him for years, and he’s a tough guy to play against. He’s an in-your-face type of guy and he loves these big games. I’m not surprised to see him doing what he’s doing.”
As for Kunitz, his motivation is not to sign another contract. He’s not thinking about the Hall of Fame or even what another ring would mean for his legacy. He just wants another story to tell.
“We had a conversation after Game 6 (of the Eastern Conference final) that you don’t get this opportunity,” Kunitz said earlier this week. “The accomplishment of winning is the bond (that you form with your teammates). Not a day goes by when you don’t get a text message from someone you won with.
“That’s something that drives you to want to do it again.”
The thing that Sidney Crosby appreciated was the maturity.
Jake Guentzel might be the least experienced player on the Pittsburgh Penguins. But when the 22-year-old rookie was mired in an eight-game scoring drought, Crosby said it was impressive that his teammate did not let his emotions get the better of him.
“Yeah, I think he just stayed with it,” said Crosby. “I don't think he got too frustrated. I'm sure there's a couple that he wanted to see go in.”
Guentzel, who leads the post-season with 10 goals, scored arguably his biggest one in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. With the score tied 3-3 in the third period, it was Guentzel who beat Pekka Rinne with a wrist shot in Pittsburgh's 5-3 win.
“I don't think he changed the way he played, or started cheating in areas,” said Crosby. “He kept going to the same areas, kept competing. If you continue to do that, eventually they'll go in. He got a big one for us last night.
“I think he's quietly competitive, but I think he's shown a lot of poise, too. You see the situations he's been thrown into. For a young player, that's not always easy. He's handled it well. He's going through some things for the first time. He's handling it really well.”

How Penguins playoff scorer Jake Guentzel became a Nebraska hockey icon

Tal Pinchevsky
May 30, 2017
Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts after scoring a goal during the third period in Game One of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on May 29, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Jake Guentzel was not contemplating any sort of homecoming when he committed to playing hockey at the University of Nebraska Omaha. Guentzel was born in Omaha while his father, Mike, was head coach of the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League, but Jake was just a few months old when his family moved to Minnesota. But after returning to the state amid its first modest hockey boom, the Pittsburgh Penguins rookie is inadvertently becoming hockey's face in the Cornhusker State.
Mike Guentzel uprooted his family to take a job coaching at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. Jake, the youngest of three brothers, grew up playing in the State of Hockey before returning to Omaha to play collegiately, a decision that had nothing to with any lingering affinity for the state where he was born.
"[It was because of the] coaching there, Dean Blais, to get to play for him. He's put a lot of guys in the NHL. I loved it there," Guentzel said. "The fans there are great. It was the time of my life. A special time."
Even after three seasons at Omaha, Guentzel still considers himself a Minnesotan first and foremost, but the little time he spent in Nebraska made him a prominent piece of the state's burgeoning hockey culture. Now an important piece of a Penguins team three wins shy of hoisting the Stanley Cup for a second straight year, Guentzel might have unintentionally become a Nebraska hockey icon.
He can build further on that legend Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET) at PPG Paints Arena when the Penguins host Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals against theNashville Predators.
"All of us Penguin fans in Nebraska claim him being from here," said Shawn Spencer, president of the Midwest Amateur Hockey Association, the official USA Hockey affiliate overseeing the game in Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa.
"It's fun. My youngest grandson, as soon as we saw Guentzel in the playoffs when he scored, he had his dad go buy an autographed Guentzel stick."
For a state looking to expand its hockey culture, Guentzel, 22, has become a beacon. The Penguins rookie scored the winning goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals and leads the playoffs with 10 goals. That total leaves him four short of the rookie record for a single postseason, which was set by Dino Ciccarelli of the Minnesota North Stars in 1981. Guentzel's four winning goals in the playoffs are tied for the rookie record, which he shares with Chris Drury and Claude Lemieux.
Hockey fans in Nebraska first got to know Guentzel during his time in Omaha. The highlight of his collegiate career was the at-large bid the Mavericks earned to the 2015 NCAA tournament. Led by Guentzel, Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four in Boston before losing to eventual champion Providence.
"It was awesome. We sold out almost every game for our school," said Guentzel. "The fans were outstanding, and when we made the Frozen Four, a lot of them drove to Boston. We've got some great fans there."
That unlikely run for Guentzel and the Mavericks conveniently came just as the state of Nebraska was enjoying the start of its first hockey golden age. In 2014, the state hosted the USA Hockey high school national championship tournament. That same year saw the opening of the John Breslow Ice Hockey Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. The sprawling facility was the first of its kind in Lincoln and was built for the express purpose of growing the sport in the state.
Larry Taylor, who has coached the club team at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln since 2005, said Breslow donated about $7 million for the rink. "His dream was to have a local kid go through the youth organization and go all the way through the ranks and make it into the NHL," Taylor said.
Taylor predicts it will be a few years before Breslow's dream becomes a reality. In the meantime, Nebraska's growing hockey community is happy to latch onto Guentzel's success. Guentzel is reminded of that by the countless messages he's received from the state as he's enjoyed his breakout rookie season.
"You hear a lot from them. It's special to know that they're watching," Guentzel said. "I was over there three years and they were awesome to me."
At roughly 1,800 players, according to Spencer, Nebraska's grass-roots hockey movement remains small. But it's grown by leaps and bounds considering the sport's modest early days in the state.
"We used to struggle; we used to only have three indoor rinks in Omaha, and one of them was temporary," said Spencer. "One of them had concrete boards."
In recent years, the state has seen new rinks pop up in a variety of spots. In Omaha, one group converted an old nut factory into a rink that supports skating, hockey and even curling. But the biggest boost for the sport could come from building the program in Lincoln. Since the Big Ten hockey conference was established in 2013, there has been speculation that the University of Nebraska could eventually get a Division I program. Taylor's club team has drawn up to 1,000 spectators for games since moving into Breslow Ice Center, but it's clear that the school must overcome certain hurdles before the state gets its second Division I program.
"I've talked to a bunch of coaches and I know they're pushing for the Big Ten," said Taylor.
For now, Nebraska's hockey community is thrilled to watch Guentzel inch closer to hoisting the Stanley Cup. With every goal he scores, he further builds his legend in the state, even if that was never his intention.
"There's quite a buzz because he played at the university and people knew him," Spencer said. "There are the old-timers who remember his dad coaching the Lancers. We didn't know he was going to develop into this player. Now even those that may not have recognized it, they're recognizing it now."

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

McCutchen's homer give Pirates 4-3 walkoff win over Arizona

The Associated Press
May 29, 2017
Pittsburgh Pirate teammates prepare to mob Andrew McCutchen (22) after his walk-off home run off Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Archie Bradley during a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 29, 2017. Pittsburgh won 4-3. (AP Photo/Phil Long)
Pittsburgh Pirate teammates prepare to mob Andrew McCutchen (22) after his walk-off home run off Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Archie Bradley during a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 29, 2017. Pittsburgh won 4-3. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen has never hit so low in the lineup, and his .215 batting average makes it easy to understand why he's there.
The face of the Pittsburgh Pirates still has some fireworks in his bat, though.
McCutchen led off the ninth with a home run to right field, lifting the Pirates over the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-3 in a wild ending Monday.
McCutchen sent a 1-1 pitch from Archie Bradley (1-1) over the right field wall to cap a back-and-forth ninth. Arizona's Chris Iannetta had tied it moments earlier with a two-run homer to left off closer Tony Watson.
"Crazy ballgame," Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle said. "Absolutely crazy."
"It's part of the game that makes it so great," said Arizona manager Torey Lovullo. "You experience a high, and five minutes later the game's over and you come crawling back here."
It was the eighth homer this season for McCutchen, who was recently benched for two games and dropped to sixth in the batting order for the first time in his career. Since getting back in the lineup, McCutchen is 5 for 14 with a pair of home runs.
"Being able to have those couple days did help me," McCutchen said. "I'm feeling good, feeling better and having more consistent at-bats. "
Watson (4-1) was credited with the win after blowing his third save in 13 opportunities.
It was a costly victory for the Pirates, as starting right fielder Gregory Polanco left the game with a sprained right ankle. X-rays were negative and the Polanco will see a doctor before getting an update Tuesday. He got his ankle caught awkwardly in the railing separating the stands from the playing field while chasing down a foul ball in the sixth inning.
Polanco had just returned from the DL for a strained left hamstring on May 25. He'd been hitting well since his return. He was 1 for 2 on Monday and 6 for 14 since coming back.
Before Iannetta tied it, backup catcher Chris Stewart looked to be the hero for the Pirates. Stewart, an 11-year veteran known mostly for his defensive ability, hadn't driven in a run all the season when he came to the plate with Jose Osuna and McCutchen on base in a tie game.
Facing reliever J.J. Hoover, Stewart drove a ball into the left-center gap for two runs and ended up with just the second triple of his career. Stewart had to leave the game after his hit with a left leg strain, which he said is hopefully minor.
Osuna replaced Polanco in the field and started the Pirates' rally in the seventh with a leadoff double.
Arizona starter Randall Delgado struck out a season-high eight over his 5 2/3 innings. Delgado was filling in for the injured Taijuan Walker. He had his longest appearance of the year in terms of innings and pitches thrown (92).
Pirates starter Trevor Williams gave up one run and four hits while striking out three in his six innings.
David Peralta opened the scoring for Arizona in the first. He was hit by a pitch and came home on Yasmany Tomas' single to left. The Pirates tied it in the fourth when Jordy Mercer tripled and Josh Bell hit a sacrifice fly.
Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer) said he felt good after making his first minor league rehab start on Sunday. He's expected to throw a bullpen session Tuesday before determining where and when his next rehab start will be.
Diamondbacks: Walker will throw in a simulated game Tuesday in Pittsburgh as he attempts to return from a blister on his right index finger. If all goes well, Walker could be removed from the disabled list and rejoin the rotation afterward, but the Diamondbacks will still need one more spot start before Walker takes his turn.
Pirates RHP Ivan Nova (5-3, 2.83 ERA) will look to win in three straight starts for the first time since 2015 when he was with the New York Yankees. The Diamondbacks will counter with LHP Robbie Ray (4-3, 3.45), who has also won two consecutive starts. Ray has never won three in a row.

Malkin goal serves as spark in Penguins' victory

By Kevin Gorman
May 30, 2017
Evgeni Malkin scores a power-play goal in the first period of Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. (Christian Tyler Randolph/Tribune-Review)

Eighteen seconds before the expiration of a five-on-three power play that was proving disastrous, the Penguins put the puck past Pekka Rinne for the first goal of this Stanley Cup Final.
That the shot came off the stick of Evgeni Malkin was something of a surprise, more so an anomaly for the NHL playoffs scoring leader, with 25 points (eight goals).
Malkin has been magnificent on the man-advantage, with 10 points this postseason. Yet, believe it or not, this was his first power-play goal of the playoffs.
And it was a beauty.
Before we get to the play that started the scoring in the Penguins' 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Monday night at PPG Paints Arena, let's consider what made it so momentous.
The Predators were thoroughly outplaying the Penguins through the first seven minutes of the opening period, which has become a theme for opponents this postseason, when star defenseman P.K. Subban fired a wrister from the top of the left circle for a 1-0 Nashville lead.
Or was it?
Mike Sullivan immediately issued a coach's challenge, and a video review showed that Filip Forsberg lifted his right skate and was offside moments before the puck found its way to Subban.
It was a big break for the Penguins — one that changed everything.
Then the Predators got another bad break at 13:50 with dual penalties by center Calle Jarnkrok, for interference on Patric Hornqvist in front of the net, and left wing James Neal, for cross-checking Trevor Daley.
But Nashville is known for its defense and its goaltender, and the Predators penalty-kill unit kept the puck away from the Penguins for the next 1:42.
But Malkin dumped one along the backboards to Crosby, who got away with an elbow that leveled Mattias Ekholm. Crosby found Daley, who set up Malkin for the one-timer.
“That wasn't a great five-on-three leading up to it, but we found a way to put it in,” Crosby said. “Geno's goal got us going, gave us a little momentum, gave us a little bit of life — especially coming off that disallowed goal. For him to step up with that one definitely got us going.”
Malkin's goal opened the floodgates against Rinne, who entered the final with a 1.70 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
Not only did it give Malkin an early edge over Rinne for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP, but its value soon was magnified.
The Penguins scored two more goals in four minutes for a 3-0 first-period lead, thanks to Conor Sheary getting his first of the playoffs and Nick Bonino getting a lucky bounce from Rinne's stick and off Ekholm.
The Penguins then went 37:09 without a shot.
That's unimaginable, given their array of offensive talent, and Sullivan admitted they got outplayed for long stretches.
Meantime, the Penguins blew the three-goal lead. Nashville rallied to tie it before rookie Jake Guentzel ended his eight-game goal-scoring drought at 16:43.
As Crosby said, it wasn't a textbook victory. Except maybe for Malkin's goal, which gave the Penguins a spark that was missing for much of the game.
A day earlier, at Stanley Cup media day, Malkin made it clear that he doesn't get caught up in his statistics.
“I count Cups,” he said.
And the Penguins are one victory closer to another.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.


May 30, 2017
Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Trevor Daley #6 after scoring a goal during the first period in Game One of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on May 29, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH – If the mark of a true champion is being able to turn in a sub-par effort and still get a positive result, the NHL’s engraver might want to start working on his spelling of Guentzel immediately.

Hall of Fame pitchers have a unique ability to sometimes pull victories out of games in which they’re throwing nothing but junk across the plate. Great quarterbacks can have a bad day and win the game with two magnificent drives in the fourth quarter. Teams with a championship pedigree can play an absolutely dreadful game, go exactly 37 minutes without recording a shot on goal, and pretty much just rely on their pure talent to save them.
And that’s pretty much why the Pittsburgh Penguins will wake up Tuesday morning feeling as though they just dreamed they had won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. But they’ll give their heads a shake and realize it’s all real. They’ll take stock of Game 1 and remember that they benefitted from a called-back goal that turned the tide of the game, they scored on a 5-on-3 in the Stanley Cup final – like that happens every day – and they were complicit in one of the best goalies on the planet posting a save percentage of .636.
“We weren’t very good,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. Then he went on to say, “none of us in our dressing room are fooled by the score tonight.”
Weirdest. Game. Ever. The Penguins scored with 17 seconds remaining in the first period on a goal that came when Rinne directed a rebound off Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm, then went 37 minutes without another shot before Jake Guentzel, who hadn’t scored himself in nine games, drilled the dagger into the Predators with 3:37 remaining in the game. Nick Bonino scored two goals in the game, neither of which actually came with him shooting a puck on a goaltender.
So there’s one of two ways you can feel if you’re the Penguins. The first would be deeply concerned. They were running on fumes by the end of the Eastern Conference final against the Ottawa Senators – albeit very, very powerful fumes – and they turned in an effort in Game 1 that will likely see them get steamrolled in this series if they continue to play this way. After facing a passive checking team in the Senators, the Penguins looked flummoxed trying to crack the Predators, who left no gaps and were on them every time they touched the puck. The second would be encouraged, knowing you are ahead in a series despite being ridiculously outplayed.
“I didn’t think we were stiff enough in the battle areas,” Sullivan said. “When we’re defending we’ve got to get into people’s bodies, we’ve got to hit and stick and stay engaged. It seemed like we were coming off checks and giving them time and space with a little bit of separation. If we played a little stiffer, we could create separation from the puck and give our guys an opportunity to win a puck battle.”
That’s hockey speak for the Penguins simply have to try harder and be more detail oriented. So much of their game is winning 50-50 battles based on their speed, but you have to create the 50-50 battle in the first place. And you do that by being hungrier for the puck and being more dogged in the pursuit of it.
The Penguins will be better in Game 2, for no other reason than they can’t possibly be any worse. You look at the two teams’ four forward lines and the disparity in overall talent between the Penguins and Predators borders on ridiculous. Then you turn to the defense pairings and the disparity in overall talent between the Predators and Penguins is just as ridiculous. The players the Penguins dressed for Game 1 own a combined 22 Stanley Cup rings. The players the Predators dressed have a combined total of zero, with only captain Mike Fisher even having the experience of playing in a Stanley Cup final.
Clearly, experience matters. It did in Game 1 and now the Penguins will have to call on that experience to summon a better effort in Game 2.
“As a group tonight, we weren’t as good as I think our own expectations are,” Sullivan said. “I think all of our players are very good at self-assessing. So it’s an opportunity for us to learn from it, move by it, make sure we respond the right way.”