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Potent power play propels Penguins

Tuesday, 05.26.2009 / 1:49 PM / Conference Finals: Pittsburgh vs. Carolina

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

"I think we've benefited a lot from him on the power play. The way he brings the puck up the ice and in the zone. Just knowing the nuisances of getting the puck to different areas that we need to try to have success. So he's big in that regard."
-- Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, on Sergei Gonchar

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's not easy to score power-play goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's even harder to score man-advantage goals against the Carolina Hurricanes, perhaps the most fundamentally sound team remaining in the postseason.

But the Pittsburgh Penguins aren't having much of a problem, clicking at 25 percent (3-for-12) in the Eastern Conference Finals. In fact, their power play is one of the major reasons that the Penguins hold a 3-0 lead in this best-of-7 Eastern Conference Finals against the 'Canes.

Game 4 is Tuesday night at the RBC Center (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS), the first of four opportunities the Penguins will have to put away the 'Canes and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second-straight year.

If they make it that far, the power play will be a big storyline. It helped Pittsburgh escape a 0-2 series hole last round against the Washington Capitals and now it is proving to be one of the major difference-makers in this series against the Hurricanes.

Philippe Boucher scored the game-winning goal in Game 1 with the man advantage and Evgeni Malkin turned a 1-0 deficit in Game 3 into a 1-1 tie with a quick-strike goal on the power play just 1:44 after Carolina had the RBC Center rocking with the game-opening goal. Bill Guerin added a late power-play goal in the 6-2 victory Saturday.

With so much offensive talent on the Penguins, power-play success should be a given, but it hasn't been. The Penguins opened the playoffs by going 4-for-37 in the first seven games of the playoffs. Now, they are 12 for their past 41 chances and have had at least one power-play tally in eight of the nine games during that span.

"It's definitely improving," said Sergei Gonchar, the point man on the first unit, a unit that also features Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Gonchar, though, is the man that makes things look easy, says Dan Bylsma, the Pittsburgh coach.

"I think we've benefited a lot from him on the power play," Bylsma said. "The way he brings the puck up the ice and in the zone.  Just knowing the nuisances of getting the puck to different areas that we need to try to have success. So he's big in that regard."

Gonchar missed a pair of games during the Washington series, sidelined after a dangerous knee-on-knee collision with Washington's Alex Ovechkin. He returned for a winner-take-all Game 7, but his ice time was limited, coming mainly on the power play. He has played more and more in each game of the Carolina series, but he is still protected a bit by the fact that the Penguins continue to dress seven defensemen.

And, the Penguins struck on the power play both games Gonchar missed, so the Russian point man is not the only reason for success. Defensemen Kris Letang and Philippe Boucher can also control the power play from the blue line.

Crosby sees the difference in the last nine games mainly as the byproduct of hard work and concentration.

"It's just execution," the captain said. "There's not a big difference. I think we were getting chances before. We weren't putting them in.  It's just a matter of execution.  We gave ourselves a chance with getting more zone time and stuff like that.  I think we've just done a better job of executing."
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