With 10 seconds left on a power play early in the first period, a Penguins forward powered around an Islanders' defenseman, drove to the net and sniped an absolutely sick shot past goaltender Evgeni Nabokov at a truly impossible angle.
Who was it, you ask? Well, it wasn’t Sidney Crosby, as he did not play in the game (broken jaw). It wasn’t Evgeni Malkin. And it wasn’t James Neal.
It was rookie Beau Bennett. He scored on his first shot. In his first shift. In his first NHL playoff game.
That’s something current and former Penguins superstars Crosby, Malkin, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr did not accomplish in their postseason debuts.
Not a bad way to start, especially for a player who didn’t know until this morning if he’d even crack the lineup for tonight’s game.
“It was definitely good to get the team going right off the get go,” Bennett said. “Luckily, we shut them down from there on out and had some big goals from other guys. It really was exciting and got the confidence up a little bit. That’s pretty big going forward.”
Bennett literally had about five inches of space to work with on that shot, and he somehow squeezed it in. But that’s the thing about pro hockey players is they take the time to hone and perfect details of their game we wouldn’t even think of. And that shot is something Bennett actively works on.
“That’s something I work on quite a bit, is that short side shot,” Bennett said with a smile. “I did it a couple times in Wilkes-Barre. Luckily, it went in the spot I wanted it to. Those are just things you just want to attempt.”
Ever since the moment Bennett was drafted, the Penguins organization and its fans have been anticipating the kind of NHL player he would be. His silky smooth hands, craftiness, smarts and vision were readily apparent even as a raw 18-year-old hockey player, and it was exciting to think of how those talents would translate to the NHL level as he matured.
That being said, Bennett turned 21 years old in November and is still growing and developing. So when he got called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for the first time on Feb. 15, you didn’t want to have too high of expectations. After all, he’s still a kid in many ways.
But much to everyone’s delighted surprise, Bennett has been playing way beyond his years in his time with Pittsburgh – and is looking like the player everyone hoped he would be. And he showed that on Wednesday in the biggest game of his career so far, playing calm, composed and poised.
He started on the fourth line with Craig Adams and Tanner Glass, but slotted up and took shifts throughout the lineup once James Neal left the game in the second period. Bennett wheeled and dealed around the offensive zone in one notable shift that cumulated with him stripping an Islander of the puck, pulling it up to his forehand and ripping a shot on goalie Kevin Poulin. Bennett finished with 13:58 minutes of ice time.
“We have a lot of depth on this team so we all have to be ready whenever we’re called upon,” Bennett said on how his role progressed. “Luckily, I got the call tonight. I tried to take full advantage of it and our team did really well.”