-- Lost in the disappointment of Pittsburgh's fall-from-ahead loss to the Montreal Canadiens
Thursday in Game 4 at the Bell Centre was an unbelievable performance by center Jordan Staal
Staal played more than 13 minutes in Pittsburgh' 3-2 loss, his first game back after suffering a lacerated tendon in his right foot in the second period of Game 1 of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series, which is now tied at two games apiece.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).
The Penguins have to be confident they can count on Staal to deliver quality minutes in that pivotal game after his gritty showing Thursday, just six days after suffering the injury in a freak collision with Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban.
Despite having just one full practice and a morning skate under his belt, Staal -- who described his injury as "one big blob" -- exceeded all expectations with his performance in Game 4.
Thursday's plan was to slowly work Staal back into the forward rotation, spotting him on the fourth line in place of Mike Rupp
, who was a scratch.
But that plan -- much like the idea that Staal would miss a significant amount of time after undergoing surgery last week to repair the damaged tendon -- went out the window in Game 4 as Staal proved to be further along than anyone imagined, and Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma
found himself going more and more with Staal, a Swiss Army knife-type of a forward who does so many things for the Penguins.
"The plan was to ease him back to minutes; start him on the fourth line," Bylsma said afterward. "And I think he was pretty confident that once he got a few shifts under his belt that he would be fine.
"The game played out pretty close to what I thought it might be for Jordan in terms of minutes he played and the situations he played in. I didn't think he missed a step. I think he looked pretty good."
Staal played 13:24 in Game 4 -- more than four of Pittsburgh's other 11 forwards. He took 18 shifts and found himself logging a regular penalty-kill shift before long. He drove the net hard and often and managed two shots, a hit and two takeaways, while going 5-of-8 in the faceoff circle.
Perhaps the only negative is Staal was on the ice for the tying goal by Maxime Lapierre, on Staal's first shift of the third period. But that is small-picture stuff at this point.
In the big picture, Pittsburgh is going to be a far better team if Staal has put his injury behind him in such short order and can deliver performances like Thursday's throughout the rest of this series.
Just ask Sidney Crosby
, the team's captain.
"I'm sure he probably wanted to ease his way into it a little bit, but it looked like he felt pretty good," Crosby said. "I didn't see at any point that he felt like he couldn't keep going or needed to take a shift off.
"It seemed like every shift he was right there and his legs were there. That's a really good sign for us."