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Third-line center Sutter important for Penguins

by Wes Crosby /

PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins' top two centers are well regarded, but their third should not be overlooked.

Brandon Sutter plays in the shadows cast by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He is compared to former Penguins third-line center Jordan Staal, who won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009 before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes three years later for Sutter, defenseman Brian Dumoulin, and the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.

When compared to Crosby and Malkin, Sutter isn't as skilled. Some believe that holds true when measuring him against the standard Staal set on the Penguins' third line as well. But Sutter has been quietly productive, sometimes deadly, and oftentimes clutch through his first three seasons in Pittsburgh.

"I think you just go play, and hopefully good things happen," Sutter said. "You don't think too much about what exactly is going on. You just go play and try to do your part and if you get a goal that's great, but by no means do you measure your game on your goals and assists.

"You just go out and as long as you're playing well and doing things right, then hopefully you get rewarded."

Sutter was rewarded in the Penguins' 4-3 Game 2 win of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers on Saturday.

Crosby rightfully stole the headlines, leading Pittsburgh with two goals scored 4:39 apart in the second period. But it was Sutter who scored a power-play goal, the first of the Penguins' three unanswered goals, midway through the second period to tie the game 1-1. And it was Sutter who wrapped a shot around the New York net, banging it off goalie Henrik Lundqvist's pads and producing an opportunity for forward Chris Kunitz to score the game-deciding goal 9:41 into the third.

"[Sutter] is a guy who, obviously, plays behind [Malkin] and [Crosby], and sometimes is overlooked to a degree," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "But we expect a lot out of [Sutter]. We expect that type of game. I thought last night, his compete level was really high. When he gets his compete level that's when he's at his best because he's good defensively, but he's harder on loose pucks in the offensive zone, which creates chances.

"He was creating chances last night. The one that he walked out from the corner, I know it was on the power play, but he walked with authority to the net. He took it to the crease and [Kunitz] comes in and gets the rebound. But it was a hard play. Those are the things [Sutter] has to do, is make those hard plays offensively."

Saturday wasn't out of the norm. A week prior to Game 2, the Penguins were teetering on the edge of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in nine years. Pittsburgh needed a win against the Buffalo Sabres or a Boston Bruins loss on April 11 to clinch a playoff berth.

Crosby was held scoreless. Malkin was held scoreless. Sutter scored each of the Penguins' two goals and propelled them back into the postseason.

The Penguins hope Sutter can continue to produce when they face the Rangers in Game 3 at Consol Energy Center on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG, ROOT), with the best-of-7 series tied 1-1.

"He's a very important part of our team," Malkin said. "He does a great job. He's an unbelievable guy. We see how good he is right now and it's every game. … It's his forecheck, his backcheck; it's everywhere. I'm glad he's playing unbelievably right now."

Sutter scored a career-high four shorthanded goals this season, another area of his game Malkin cited as a strength.

Crosby, Sutter and Kunitz turned the series back to Pittsburgh tied 1-1. The momentum might have shifted in the Penguins' favor after two games, but Sutter said the Penguins must remain focused to carry that level of play back to Consol Energy Center.

"We definitely played better [in the first two games of the series] than we did against them in the season, for sure," Sutter said. "When you're going into New York, you obviously want to go there and get one win and we did that. We got the split we wanted, but obviously in this series, there's a lot of work left to be done, but we definitely need to have some confidence and belief that that's a team we can beat.

"There's been a lot of negativity surrounding our team from the outside, but we know what we're capable of and we're just going to go play."

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