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Sutter has filled important two-way role for Penguins

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Brandon Sutter was a first-round NHL draft talent who grew up watching a father who would score almost 400 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff goals.

Sutter has the pedigree to be a prima donna, to demand first-line ice time, to strive to be the centerpiece of a team's offense, to tend to focus primarily on offensive production.

Not Sutter. He embraces a two-way role that suits his skill set marvelously.

Brandon Sutter
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 19
SOG: 82 | +/-: 3
"Absolutely," the Pittsburgh Penguins center said. "I'm used to it too. I've been playing it for a few years now, and it's a role I like."

The Penguins like the way he performs it too.

Despite not registering a point, Sutter showed his worth in Pittsburgh's 5-0 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

While rookie Beau Bennett stole the show with a goal on his first shift in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Sutter was the Penguins' other forward making his postseason debut. He made a similarly significant impact.

"The role we are in this series against the [John] Tavares line, we need somebody who's reliable on faceoffs -- deep in their zones, late in periods and during penalty kills -- and staying above pucks," veteran linemate Brenden Morrow said of Sutter. "Tavares and that line is looking for quick offense, and they strike quick if you give them any space. [Sutter] did a great job above pucks and turning pucks over and not letting them have any zone time."

Sutter was second among Penguins forwards in ice time during Game 1, playing three fewer seconds than reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin's 17:16. Sutter also took a team-high 19 faceoffs and contributed to special teams that were almost perfect (4-for-4 on the penalty kill, 2-for-3 on the power play). Sutter blocked a shot, delivered a hit and had a takeaway with no giveaways.

Still, the best way his contribution can be quantitatively measured is by looking at the stats of New York's top line. Tavares, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes did not score and were held to a combined four shots on goal.

Tavares, who finished the regular season third in the League in goals and eighth in shots, did not have a shot on goal.

"We're trying to do our best to shut him down, but we know they're good players and they're going to make plays and they're going to get their chances," Sutter said. "For us, it's a matter of trying to limit that and make it hard on them."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma rarely employs the prototypical "checking line" strategy of matching against another team's top players as much as possible throughout the game.

But it's fair to say Sutter and his line often were turned to throughout the regular season when they needed a critical defensive stop. Forward Matt Cooke is a player who long has been in that role for the Penguins, mostly with Jordan Staal during the previous four seasons.

But Staal was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes in June, and part of the return was Sutter. Wanting to expand his role after six seasons as Pittsburgh's third-line center behind Sidney Crosby and Malkin, Staal turned down a lengthy contract extension from the Penguins. Although Pittsburgh also received defense prospect Brian Dumoulin and a 2012 first-round pick, Penguins general manager Ray Shero was adamant about getting a player who could fill Staal's role in return. He found that in Sutter.

"Brandon, through his 50 games, has filled a lot more than a checking role for our team, and I think he's done a really good job," Bylsma said. "When you look at the number of goals he's scored and the timeliness of the goals, who he's scored against … I don't think his offensive production has been off the charts, but those have been some pretty big goals for us at pretty big times.

"He's done that, and he's also been a responsible guy on the other side of the puck. We had put him up against a lot of good players this year with his line and different wingers, and he's been up to that task as well."

Sutter had 11 goals in 48 games, including three on the power play. Most impressive was that nearly half of his goals (five) were game-winners. Only James Neal had more for the Penguins.

Sutter's goals ranked among Pittsburgh's most memorable of the season. His overtime goal at the Montreal Canadiens on March 2 capped a wild 7-6 win. He scored the tying and winning goals in a span of 3:24 as the Penguins erased a 2-0 deficit with 6:18 left in the third period for a 3-2 regulation win against the Boston Bruins on March 12. Pittsburgh passed Boston for the Eastern Conference lead that day and kept it for good.

Twice this season Sutter scored a game-winner during his first third-period shift at the Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders. That was somewhat fitting, because the second-oldest building in the NHL holds some special significance to Sutter and his family.

Brandon Sutter's father is Brent Sutter, who spent parts of 12 seasons with the Islanders and helped the franchise win two of its four Stanley Cup championships. Brandon was born on Long Island but moved as an infant so has no memories of living there.

The place holds significance to his father, giving later games in this series some extra meaning to Brandon Sutter.

"It's always is cool going back there, seeing tapes of the Islanders back in the day with him around so many great players," Brandon Sutter said. "So many great memories."

Brandon has a chance to create some great memories of his own. Making his playoff debut with the team many are pegging as the favorite to claim the Stanley Cup, he is out to add to the legacy of the Sutter family.

Though each of the Sutter brothers who played in the NHL during a span from 1976-2001 scored more than 100 career goals, they also generally were known for their grit and two-way play.

At 6-foot-3 and 183 pounds, and blessed with soft hands, Brandon Sutter has the prototypical look of a center who can contribute in any role.

"The key is you don't want to get stuck playing defense all the time -- you still want to score goals and create offense," Sutter said. "You want to be a two-way guy, not just a defensive player. It's tough some nights when you're playing against good players who have the puck a lot and make a lot of plays. But defense is something that it's a challenge every night, and I definitely take pride in it."

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