Michelle Crechiolo gives her three impressions from the press box of the Penguins’ 6-3 series-clinching win in Game 5 of their First Round matchup with the New York Rangers.
FINISHING THE JOB
As Sidney Crosby told me yesterday, “We put ourselves in a position here to close out at home, so we want to get it done.” They did just that. I think the most impressive part of the win is that every player stepped up and did their job – and it all started with their captain, who I thought was the best player on the ice. He was absolutely locked in and just played a dominant game, as did Evgeni Malkin. They both set up Pens’ rookies for scores, and those young kids seized the moment and had huge performances – as did Pittsburgh’s oldest player, Matt Cullen, whose line keyed the second-period turnaround. Phil Kessel scored another clutch power-play goal, while the penalty kill came up with big sequences. The six men on the Pens blue line all had excellent games, Trevor Daley in particular. They were strong in front of Matt Murray, who – after allowing two goals in the first – shut it down and came up with key stops throughout the rest of the game. There were honestly no passengers on this ride, and as a result, I think it’s safe to say any ghosts of playoff series past with the Rangers have been exorcised.
WHAT A SECOND
What makes this win even more impressive is that the Pens got off to the exact opposite start they probably would have wanted, allowing a goal just 1:02 into the game. The Rangers were a desperate team with their backs against the wall, and that was evident in the first period. But just like the Pens have done all year, they came out after the intermission and absolutely dominated the second period – scoring four goals in the frame and ensuring Henrik Lundqvist would not start the third. As I mentioned above, Matt Cullen’s line with Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl were the biggest reason the Pens were able to break the game open. They had a few strong offensive zone shifts where they got in on the forecheck and wore the Rangers down, and were eventually rewarded with goals for Cullen and Rust.
The Pens’ young guys stepped up big down the stretch and were key to the team’s second-half turnaround. While I never doubted they would continue that in the postseason, I underestimated just how incredible they would be. As Mike Sullivan said yesterday, “They’re just embracing the moment right now and enjoying every minute of it. They’re playing hard hockey and their focus is just on the process every day of just trying to be the best they can be. Without a doubt, these young guys that have come into our lineup – not just in the playoffs, but throughout the course of the season – have brought that youthful enthusiasm and energy to our team and it’s continued through the playoffs.” Tonight, it was Rust and Conor Sheary who were the stars. They were always a factor with their speed in this series, but tonight they were all over the scoresheet as well. I got a chance to sit down with Sheary after practice on Friday, and he talked about how special his first career playoff goal against Henrik Lundqvist was in Game 4. Tonight’s score – his fourth this year against the King – had to feel even better.