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Forgotten center and linemates chip in with big goals

by Adam Kimelman /
WASHINGTON -- Jordan Staal conceded last week that the Pittsburgh Penguins "don't need me to score goals to win games."

Of course, it doesn't hurt when he does.

In Game 5 of Pittsburgh's Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Washington Capitals, goals by Staal and linemate Matt Cooke were part of a 4-3 overtime victory that pushed the Penguins to the brink of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season.

"I think our line has been playing pretty solid throughout the playoffs," Staal said. "It's nice to finally get rewarded with a couple. It's nice to chip in for our team."

It had been a while for Staal between playoff scores. You have to go back nearly a calendar year, to May 18, 2008, when he scored in Game 5 of last year's Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia -- a span of 16 playoff games.

It had been even longer for Cooke -- 18 games, as he so thoughtfully pointed out to the media.

"It's nice to get the monkey off the back," Cooke said. "Anytime we can chip in offensively it helps. You need secondary scoring throughout the playoffs.

"We haven't done much offensively all series. Down the stretch we were able to chip in and help this team win and take pressure off the top two lines, but it just felt like we weren't on the same page. Tonight we were sticking with it, trying to be positive. We had two chances late in Game 4, really good chances and they didn't go in the net, but we didn't need them, so we could save them for tonight."

Staal scored the game's first goal when he converted a nice give-and-go with Miroslav Satan, scoring from in close 5:17 into the second period. And in the third, with the game tied 2-2, Staal started a rush with a pass to Tyler Kennedy and was lurking around the net for the rebound of Kennedy's shot. He was tied up by a Washington player, but Cooke got in and buried the loose puck at 6:27 to put the Pens up 3-2.

"It's always nice to chip in every once in a while, especially for Sid (Crosby) and Geno (Evgeni Malkin)," Staal said. "They can't score every night, but they always seem to do a great job of doing that. It's nice for our line to step up and get a couple goals for us."

Staal gets a bit lost when the Penguins' great centers are mentioned. Usually the talk stops after the first two -- Crosby and Malkin. But Staal's role is more complex in that he's used mostly in a checking role -- his line spent most of the night playing opposite Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin's trio -- but he's still expected to chip in offensively.

"I think they were pressing because they hadn't played what they thought was their best hockey for the last couple of games," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Staal's line. "They played better in our building, but this was a more typical game from them. They were able to get to the offensive zone, manage the puck real well, put it behind the defense."

It's similar to how they played in the first two games of the playoffs against Philadelphia, when the Staal line was the dominant unit on either team. The trio hadn't done as much to stand out since then -- until Saturday.

"When you have a third line in your lineup that can play like that," Bylsma said, "it adds another dimension to your team and it certainly was there tonight."

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