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Penguins have different look without 'HBK Line'

Trio that inspired sandwich, helped Pittsburgh win Stanley Cup playing apart this year against Capitals

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

WASHINGTON -- They went together like ham, bacon and kielbasa.

Forwards Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel became more than a third line for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. They became the "HBK Line."

They were difference makers against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Second Round, inspired a triple-meat sandwich at Pittsburgh institution Primanti Bros. during the Eastern Conference Final and helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.

But when the Penguins face the Capitals in Game 1 of their second-round series at Verizon Center on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2), their lineup will be less meaty.

There will be no HBK Line.


[RELATED: Hagelin practices, unlikely for Game 1 | Complete Capitals-Penguins series coverage]


Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Hagelin took limited contact Thursday morning and is close to returning from a lower-body injury, but still needs to go through full-contact practice.

Kessel has been playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust.

And so Conor Sheary and Scott Wilson are expected to sandwich around Bonino.

"Hopefully we can be that HBK Line and bring a boost for our team," Sheary said.

The Penguins and Capitals look similar to the way they did last year, but there are key differences.

The biggest is the Penguins don't have No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang, out for the season with a neck injury; and the Capitals added skilled defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Letang usually logs a lot of ice time and helps diffuse the forecheck, especially important against big, heavy opponents like the Capitals.

Video: PIT@STL: Letang chips puck home on a breakaway

"When you're missing a guy like that, it's obviously going to be a little bit different," Sheary said. "He's one of the best players in the world at going back for pucks and breaking out your forwards."

The Penguins don't have goaltender Matt Murray, out with an undisclosed injury. But they have Marc-Andre Fleury, who started on their Cup run in 2009. So after the loss of Letang, the biggest difference might be the lack of the HBK Line.

The HBK Line allowed the Penguins to defeat the Capitals in six games last year even though Malkin (one goal, one assist) and center Sidney Crosby (two assists) each had two points.

Hagelin had seven points (three goals, four assists), Bonino had five (two goals, three assists) and Kessel had six (two goals, four assists). Bonino scored the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6.

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

"I think the biggest thing is matchups," said Sheary, who played on Crosby's line against the Capitals last year and had two assists in the series. "I think they try to get their best line and their best [defense] pairing out against Sid. When you play that way, it's a little bit tougher out there.

"I mean, maybe being on [Bonino's] line with [Wilson], I think maybe we'll get a little more opportunity, a little bit more freedom. But we'll see how the series goes."

Sheary, Bonino and Wilson haven't had a chance to develop chemistry. Sheary and Bonino have played together on the power play, but the three have played together all of one period.

Sullivan created the line during the fifth and final game of the Penguins' Eastern Conference First Round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I think it has the potential to score goals," Sullivan said. "I think they're dependable at both ends of the rink.

"I think Conor adds an element of speed and hockey sense and offensive instincts to that group. I think Bones is just a solid two-way center iceman. We use him in so many key situations, and we've played him with so many different wings this year. He has the ability to adapt and adjust his game. He's just a real smart player and a good competitor. And [Wilson is] a guy that brings some speed and some grit and tenacity to the line.

"So if we choose to go that route, we think that line has the ability to make a difference."

Enough to make a sandwich at Primanti Bros.?

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