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Penguins' resiliency shines in Game 6 win

Pittsburgh shakes past demons, gets shot at reaching Cup Final

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- It was quiet in the Pittsburgh Penguins dressing room during the 15-minute break between the third period and overtime. It wasn't an eerie, what just happened, how did we get here kind of quiet; more of the focused kind of quiet. But still, quiet.

"Right away you kind of clear your mind," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said after the Penguins 4-3 series-clinching overtime win against the Washington Capitals in Game 6 at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday.

"The first five minutes, everyone is pretty quiet."

The room eventually started to perk up, to buzz. The realization of the opportunity still in front of the Penguins became apparent. Score one more goal and they advance to the Eastern Conference Final to play the Tampa Bay Lightning.

So what if they had blown a 3-0 lead. So what if they were guilty of three consecutive delay of game penalties for shooting the puck over the glass in a span of 2:02 in the third period, a collection of mistakes that led to John Carlson's game-tying, power-play goal.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Carlson blasts home PPG to tie it

That was history. The Penguins couldn't do anything about it. They instead could control what was in front of them -- overtime, the next challenge and another opportunity to close out the Capitals.

"You just have time to really get an idea of what an opportunity you have," Crosby said. "It didn't feel like that considering the situation initially, but when you can come in here and refocus, it's important."

Crosby spoke up, delivering a message that was basically, "Hey, stuff happens, forget about it and let's go play."

Patric Hornqvist and Matt Cullen also talked, Crosby said. Their message was the same. Nobody said anything earth shattering, nothing rah-rah, according to Crosby, who insists the Penguins aren't that type of team.

The focus instead was tactical.

The Penguins felt they would be the more rested team because of how many players had to sit in the penalty box or on the bench in the last 10 minutes of the third period, when they were guilty of four penalties, including Kris Letang's interference minor at 17:14.

They felt they would be the better team because they could be the looser team. They weren't facing elimination. They didn't have to win to stay alive. That was Washington.

"So why not just go for it," Crosby said.

They did. Hornqvist nearly scored. Nick Bonino scored. The Penguins won. There was palpable relief, but no signs of surprise.

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

"We showed a lot of poise," Crosby said. "I thought in overtime we carried the play. We wanted it. We bounced back considering what happened."

They wouldn't have three months ago.

"The first half of the season Penguins would have found a way to lose that game," defenseman Ben Lovejoy said.

The Penguins didn't have the resiliency in the first half of the season that they have now.

"What Ben said is right," defenseman Ian Cole said. "Early on in this season, we might have been like, 'Ah, we'll get them in Game 7.'"

What changed, and how?

"I just feel we haven't had that mentality where it's, 'Here we go again,'" Crosby said.

The Penguins of the past thought like that.

Cycle back a few years, to the first round in 2012, that wild series against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins had a 3-0 lead in Game 1, blew it, lost 4-3 in overtime and never really got their footing back. They unraveled in Games 2 and 3, lost them both, and eventually lost the series in six games.

Go to 2013, to the last time the Penguins made the Eastern Conference Final. They scored two goals in the series and got swept by the Boston Bruins. The next year they had a 3-1 lead on the New York Rangers in the second round and let that series get away from them.

But the Penguins of the present?

"It's been more, 'How are we going to find a way,'" Crosby said. "There have been some situations where it didn't look good in the past and things might have creeped into our mind, and I don't see that in this group."

Crosby thinks part of that is all the new, young faces in Pittsburgh, including the four rookies: goalie Matt Murray and forwards Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl and Conor Sheary, as well as defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

"They haven't necessarily been involved in games like maybe in the Philly series [in 2012]," Crosby said. "I think that may help a bit too because they don't have to look back on those memories."

Some of the newer players in Pittsburgh have, though.

Phil Kessel was on the Toronto Maple Leafs when they blew 3-0 lead in Game 7 too. Eric Fehr has been involved in so many previous disappointments as a Capitals player, including blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers last season.

Overtime was a chance for them to join in with the rest of their teammates in pushing down the demons of the past, trouncing them the way they trounced the Capitals through 40 minutes. It was a chance to show their resiliency, again. It was a chance to score and move on.

"[The team] might have been challenged the most all year tonight in that third period," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I know our leadership in our room was strong. We just went out in overtime and started to play again."

They made their noise on the ice and they ended the night with handshakes and with thoughts of what's in front of them, the next challenge, the Lightning.

"It's only win No. 8," Lovejoy said.

If the Penguins stay resilient, they might be able to get eight more.

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