PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins got a significantly different result in their third series with the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three years.
After being eliminated by the Rangers in each of the past two postseasons, the Penguins controlled much of the Eastern Conference First Round series on their way to a 4-1 series victory. Pittsburgh was particularly impressive in Games 4 and 5, winning by the combined score of 11-3.
Here are five reasons the Penguins advanced to the second round:
1. Special teams - Pittsburgh's power play had seemed to be an area of concern entering the playoffs. The Penguins, lethal while playing 5-on-5, had struggled without center Evgeni Malkin on its top power-play unit for the better part of a month.
Then Pittsburgh went on to score at least one power-play goal in all five games against New York. The Penguins scored on eight of their 21 opportunities.
"It's hard to win when your special teams don't get the job done for you," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I think the power play, they provide a certain confidence level for your team when you're going and I thought they were going the entire series."
Video: NYR@PIT, Gm5: Kessel rifles PPG past Lundqvist
2. Depth - The Penguins are simply much deeper than they were a year ago.
Rookie forwards Conor Sheary and Tom Kuhnhackl had strong performances in their first playoff series. Forward Bryan Rust came through with three points and two goals in the Game 5 win. Veteran forward Matt Cullen had two goals.
Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Malkin shined, as usual, but without contributions from Pittsburgh's supporting cast, defeating New York might have proven more difficult.
"You have to build during the year," Crosby said. "I think we learned a lot about this group along the way."
3. Matt Murray - Goalie Jeff Zatkoff deserves credit for serving admirably in the Penguins' 5-2 Game 1 win, but Murray, Pittsburgh's rookie goalie, excelled over the past three games.
With Marc-Andre Fleury recovering from his second concussion of the season, Murray returned in Game 3 from an upper-body injury and went on to win his first three playoff starts. Through his first two starts, Murray had allowed one goal on 48 shots in two wins at Madison Square Garden.
Video: PIT@NYR, Gm4: Murray shuts out Rangers in Game 4
4. Mike Sullivan - Even when the Penguins seemed dominant, Sullivan was not afraid to experiment.
Sullivan replaced forward Chris Kunitz with Sheary at first-line left wing. He shuffled Malkin throughout the lineup upon his return in Game 2 and sat him for the final five minutes of a disappointing Game 3. He played defenseman Justin Schultz 5:52 in Game 1 and scratched him for the following four games despite Schultz's providing more firepower along the blue line.
Each of those decisions helped the Penguins and led to a more focused group than in past years.
5. The stars - Pittsburgh's key players showed up.
Crosby had eight points and three goals. Malkin had seven points and two goals in four games. Letang had five points and one goal. Kessel had six points and three goals.
In past postseasons, the Penguins core seemed to shrink come April. Through one series, 2016 seems different.
Video: PIT@NYR, Gm3: Crosby redirects a feed from Kessel