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'HBK Line' could reunite for Penguins in Game 6

Unit of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel looking to finish off Capitals, like it did last season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

PITTSBURGH -- When Carl Hagelin walked into the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room for the morning skate at PPG Paints Arena on Monday, he saw it written on the white board:

Carl Hagelin. Nick Bonino. Phil Kessel.

The "HBK Line" back together again.

"There's only so much you can take from those lines when you look at them because a lot can change," Hagelin said. "But if we're together tonight, I'm definitely going to have a smile on my face."

 

[RELATED: 5 Keys to Game 6 Complete Capitals-Penguins coverage]

 

If the Penguins use the line against the Washington Capitals in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), HBK might as well stand for, to steal from Ilya Bryzgalov, Humongous Big Karma.

The situation is similar to last year: The Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy but ran into the Penguins in the second round. The Penguins took a 3-1 series lead but lost Game 5 at Verizon Center in Washington, setting up Game 6 in Pittsburgh.

Three hundred sixty-three days ago, the HBK Line made the difference. Kessel scored 5:41 into the first period and again on the power play 7:05 into the second. Hagelin followed on the power play 7:38 into the second, putting the Penguins ahead 3-0. The Capitals came back to tie it but Bonino ended it 6:32 into overtime.

The HBK Line worked hard deep in the Washington zone. Hagelin sent the puck around the end boards and skated into the slot. Kessel centered it from the left corner. Hagelin shot it. After Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby did the splits to make the initial save with his right pad, Bonino banged in the rebound on his backhand.

The Penguins won 4-3. The Capitals were eliminated. Holtby lay face down as the horn sounded and the arena rocked.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Bonino buries rebound to clinch series

The HBK Line's totals from Game 6: Kessel had three points (two goals, one assist). Hagelin had three points (one goal, two assists). Bonino had the big goal.

"That game, we got an early goal and we just kept pushing, kept pushing," Hagelin said. "It's hard to describe. It's just a good feeling throughout the whole game."

The HBK Line went on to have a ham, bacon and kielbasa sandwich named for it at Pittsburgh institution Primanti Bros., and the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan hasn't ordered the HBK Line often this season. He couldn't order it against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round or in Game 1 against the Capitals because Hagelin was injured. He put Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel together to start Game 2 but quickly broke them up because he had to adjust to in-game injuries.

"There's a possibility we could go back to that tonight," Sullivan said. "If we do, it's because we believe it's a good line and they potentially could be a difference-maker for us."

The Capitals put captain Alex Ovechkin on their third line in Game 5, spreading out their offense, and it worked in a 4-2 victory. The Penguins have been outshot nine times in 10 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, relying on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, blocked shots and opportunistic scoring, and will be without defenseman Trevor Daley (lower body) in Game 6 when they already are without defenseman Kris Letang (neck). In the past four games, Bonino (one assist) and Hagelin (one goal) each have one point.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Hagelin beats Holtby with a wrister

Asked if he was responding to the Capitals' line shuffling, Sullivan said: "No, not so much." But he does have the last change at home. The Penguins need to match the Capitals' balance, keep the puck in the Capitals' zone more and get H and B going along with K, who has five points (three goals, two assists) in the past four games.

"Game 6 was probably our best game last year," Hagelin said. "There's some really good memories from that, the way we played throughout all four periods, I guess. If we're in tonight together, we need to bring the same type of game, the same intensity, the same battle level, just overall spend a lot of time in the [offensive] zone."

Humongous Big Karma could lead to humongous big results.

"If we could find some of that scoring touch we had in the playoffs last year," Bonino said, "we'd be happy."

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