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Shero made tough choices to get Pens back on track

Monday, 06.01.2009 / 5:00 PM / 2009 Stanley Cup Final: Detroit vs. Pittsburgh

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Ray Shero could have opted to live in the past. After all, how many teams successfully plot a return course to the Stanley Cup Final?

Instead, Shero looked to the present and the future, making a series of critical moves that have the Penguins battling the Detroit Red Wings once again for the Stanley Cup with Game 3 Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) with the Wings leading 2-0.

"Last year is last year and it's time to move on," Shero told NHL.com. "What I have really enjoyed about this group is where we've come since December and January. We could have gone the other direction and that's the way we seemed to be headed, but a lot of credit has to go Dan Bylsma, the players and the additions we made."

Ah, yes, those additions. After Shero replaced Michel Therrien with Bylsma on Feb. 15, he began filling in some critical holes in his lineup. Shero acquired left wing Chris Kunitz from Anaheim on Feb. 26 and right wing Bill Guerin from the Islanders at the March 4 trading deadline. Little did he know, Kunitz and Guerin would become the lynchpins for Sidney Crosby on the top lineup.

There also was the addition of right wing Craig Adams off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks on March 4.

It was becoming evident that the pieces were falling into place. At the time Bylsma was hired, the Pens had just completed a 10-16-2 mark over a two-month stretch in December and January and were seeded 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Bylsma would lead the Pens to an 18-3-4 record upon his arrival, Kunitz would score 7 goals and 18 points in 20 games, Guerin would net 12 points in 17 games and Adams became a solid fourth-line contributor with a presence on the penalty-kill.

Talk about hitting the jackpot.

"We had filled one of our top six slots when we got Kunitz, but we still had that one hole there and we had a number of discussions with other teams looking for another forward," Shero said. "Billy (Guerin) was available and it was one of those things where, as a group, we felt that it would be a good fit for him and re-energize him as a player."

Boy has it ever.

"I can honestly say Sid's definitely done a lot for rejuvenating my career because he pushes me," Guerin said. "It's not necessarily like, 'Hey, come on, we have to get going' but just by the way he plays. He's a guy that definitely pushes you to be better and play every shift."

Result: Guerin has 7 goals, 15 points and a plus-10 rating in 19 postseason games.

"Our biggest question with Billy was can he get his drive back -- does he have the passion and can he do it," Shero said. "We took a chance and all the credit goes to Billy because he proved that he still has the passion to play and he's been absolutely fantastic for our group on and off the ice."

With Kunitz, Shero realized he would have to give up a solid player in defenseman Ryan Whitney, the top draft pick in 2002.

 
"Trading a guy like Ryan Whitney is difficult because we all think Ryan is a good defenseman in this League and will probably only get better," Shero said. "But (Kunitz) was a top-six forward and I loved the way he played the game in terms of his grit and speed. We wanted to try and get that back into our lineup and, honestly, we had lost some of that from the year before through free agency. So that's something we tried to identify and Chris was at the top of our list. In the long run, I think that deal should work out for both us and Anaheim."

Result: Kunitz has 11 assists, 12 points and a plus-5 rating in 19 postseason games.

Then there was Adams, claimed off waivers, who few gave much thought to at the time -- except Shero.

"We were looking for a player to fill that single hole on the fourth line and kill penalties, as well as provide some versatility and Craig Adams plays with courage and is a great team player," Shero said. "I still remember the day we claimed him. It was 12 o'clock and Craig's name was still out there and I was talking to our guys, our pro staff, and asking why we wouldn't take a chance with this guy. I honestly didn't think we'd get him; I thought someone else would claim him. The thing we saw with Craig was that versatility -- he had won before and some of the people in the organization knew him as a person and, to us, we knew he could play the hard game."

He's also played center at times and has won 45.8 percent (27 of 59) of his faceoffs in the playoffs. It's a role the 34-year-old Adams, who won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, is accustomed to and one he enjoys.

"Ray (Shero) said he knew me for a little while and was hoping I could bring more depth to the fourth line and do the things I've done in the past, whether killing penalties, be a part of a good forechecking unit or try and play physical, so there were no surprises," Adams said. "That's pretty much my job description so that's always a good thing. You don't want to hear "We need you to come in and score 20 goals" and that wasn't the case. I came here to play my game."

"We had filled one of our top six slots when we got Kunitz, but we still had that one hole there and we had a number of discussions with other teams looking for another forward. Billy (Guerin) was available and it was one of those things where, as a group, we felt that it would be a good fit for him and re-energize him as a player." -- Ray Shero
Result: Adams has career playoff highs for goals (three), assists (two), points (five) and plus/minus rating (plus-1) through 19 postseason games.

"The good thing is the experience these guys have had and they realize what it takes," Shero said. "We're in a good position but we've got one more big round to go."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.



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