Five reasons Penguins advanced to second round

Sunday, 05.12.2013 / 1:58 PM
Tal Pinchevsky  - NHL.com Staff Writer

It wasn't supposed to take six games and two overtime victories, but the Pittsburgh Penguins got it done.

The New York Islanders put up a great fight and even managed to contain Pittsburgh's world-class stars for large stretches. Nevertheless, the Penguins are moving on after defeating the Islanders 4-3 in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. That opening-series win can be attributed to some of the things everyone expected the top-seeded Penguins to do. But there were some surprises that helped Pittsburgh make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Here are five reasons the Penguins advanced:

1. Bounce-back goals

The Islanders got the jump for much of the series, but the Penguins never relented and were usually able to claw their way back into almost every game. On five occasions, they answered an Islanders goal by scoring less than 2:05 later. In a 6-4, Game 4 loss, the Penguins twice responded to an Islanders goal by scoring less than a minute later.

That quick answer time and again denied the upstart Islanders any opportunity to pull away.

2. Special teams

Pittsburgh's 5-on-5 play was not always stellar, but their special teams proved vital. The Penguins scored seven times on 21 power-play opportunities, including a game-winning overtime goal by Chris Kunitz in Game 3. That 33.3 percent success rate is the best of any team in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh's penalty kill successfully fought off 18 of 20 man-disadvantages, mostly with specialist Craig Adams leading the way. Adams' play on the PK was especially important in Pittsburgh's Game 6 win, when the forward spent roughly one-third of his total ice time killing penalties.

3. Unheralded players

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Jarome Iginla are going to do what they always do: score goals. But Pittsburgh received offensive contributions from some of its less-heralded players. Their four game-winning goals against the Islanders were scored by Beau Bennett, Kunitz, Tyler Kennedy and Brooks Orpik.

After entering the postseason with two career playoff goals, defenseman Douglas Murray doubled his total. Throw in the play of backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun and it appears the Penguins' depth may be an unexpected strength.

4. Getting healthy

Pittsburgh is known for its star players, but getting all that world-class talent on the ice at the same time has been a struggle. Crosby, Malkin, Letang and James Neal missed stretches of action through the regular season. Prior to the postseason, Crosby and Malkin had played two games together since March 9. But with Neal and Orpik recently recovered from their injuries, and Pittsburgh fielding a fully healthy roster, it was simply too much for the Islanders.

5. Playoff experience

The Penguins have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2010. But they still have players with a lot of postseason experience under their belts. Much of the roster, including Crosby, Malkin, Orpik and Letang, remain from the team's Stanley Cup win in 2009. And many of the veterans recently added to the roster, most notably Iginla and Murray, brought all kinds of experience with them.

Pitted against an Islanders squad made up mostly of players who had little to no playoff knowledge, experience won out in the end. To their credit, the Islanders put up a valiant effort against a team that most pundits predicted would steamroll through the opening round. Pittsburgh's veteran leadership overcame an underdog that had plenty of heart but just not enough playoff poise.

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