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Penguins scoring at prolific playoff rate

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are scoring at a rate not seen during the Stanley Cup Playoffs since Wayne Gretzky was active.

Not that the Penguins know that. Nor care.

"I don't even know or look at the number of goals we're scoring," coach Dan Bylsma said Thursday afternoon, the day after a 7-3 victory against the Ottawa Senators in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

"I don't even look at the scoreboard at the end of a game. … The scoreboard or the game sheet, all it said is that we won the game and we've got three wins. Now we need the fourth one."

Up 3-1 in the best-of-7 series, Pittsburgh is looking to close out Ottawa in Game 5 Friday at Consol Energy Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Penguins are averaging 4.1 goals per game through 10 games this postseason -- no team over the past 15 years has done that during a playoff run that lasted at least two rounds. Once since 1997-98 has a team topped 4.1 goals per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs regardless of how many rounds they played.

That was Pittsburgh, last season. The fact that those 4.3 goals-per-game Penguins were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in the first round probably tells you all you need to know about why the Penguins are so unconcerned about their offensive production.

"It's been brought up how many we're scoring, but we won the game -- we won game three (of the four needed to win a series), and that is really it," Bylsma said. "Whether it's two goals needed to win or three, we're not trying to score. We're not going into a game looking to produce four goals, and if we do we win the hockey game. That's not really the focus at all. … We're not looking to sustain [that production] to win hockey games, or we need that number or whatever. It's not what we're looking to do."

The Penguins, simply, are looking to win hockey games. It's just that, with a star-studded roster bursting at the seams with skill and offensive talent, they most often do it by posting impressive goal totals.

Pittsburgh has scored at least four goals in eight of its 10 playoff games; once did it score fewer than three.

The Penguins' explosiveness was on display in Game 4 against the Senators when Pittsburgh broke open a one-goal game by scoring four times over a span of 7:54 during the first half of the third period.

"I think that's our kind of mindset: We want to keep putting pucks behind them and wear them down as much as possible," said wing James Neal, who had two goals in Game 4. "If we stay with that, eventually we'll get our chances, and I think you saw that [Wednesday] night."

Part of what makes the Penguins so dangerous is a power play that is clicking at a League-best 28.6 percent in the postseason. Part is a relentless forecheck that has allowed them to average 40 shots on goal per game in the series.

But much of it is the fact their roster is dotted with world-class players Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, Kris Letang and Neal.

"We talk about playing a certain way and having structure to our game and it gives you the opportunity," Bylsma said. "[But] you and I could have that opportunity, and it's probably not going to look anything like James Neal doing it."

Bylsma pointed to Neal's first goal Wednesday and to a goal by Crosby that made it 6-2 as examples of instant offense that are attributable to the talent level of those players that no amount of mere effort, execution or strategy can produce.

"You can look to the Crosby goal … the play and the rush and design and habit and structure of what we want to do was there," Bylsma said. "Beau Bennett goes through the middle-lane drive and Sid cuts behind. But that's something few guys can pull off and make it look it like Sidney did. And the same thing with James Neal's goal."

Still, despite the advantage in offensive skill and in the series score, the Penguins insist the Senators aren't buried yet.

When they held a 3-1 series lead on Ottawa with Game 5 in Pittsburgh in 2010, the Senators won to force Game 6.

"The fourth win in the series is always the hardest to get because the other team's back is against the wall, they're the most desperate and emotionally charged. … We respect the fact they're going to be better [Friday] night."
-- Penguins forward Matt Cooke

"That team has no quit," wing Matt Cooke said.

"The fourth win in the series is always the hardest to get because the other team's back is against the wall, they're the most desperate and emotionally charged. … We respect the fact they're going to be better [Friday] night."

But are the Senators going to be better enough that they'll score four goals? Despite Bylsma's insistence that the number of goals the Penguins get doesn't matter as far as winning, his team is 0-2 this postseason when scoring fewer than four times.

When Pittsburgh scores at least four goals, it is 7-1.

Perhaps the Penguins' offensive mentality was best explained by Cooke. When Neal scored on the power play 1:59 into the third period Wednesday to make it 4-2, many teams would have gone into a defensive shell to protect the two-goal lead by suffocating the opposition.

Not the Penguins. Instead of going into lockdown mode, they went out and piled on to put the game out of reach.

"We get the power-play goal to make it 4-2, and instead of just sitting back and watching them make a push, we pushed even harder," Cooke said. "It wasn't that they just rolled over -- that wasn't the case; they were still coming at us. … I wouldn't take anything away from what they did -- it was just maybe the focus and the way we approached it up 4-2."

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