The Pittsburgh Penguins held an optional skate Tuesday afternoon before flying to Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern-Conference Final.
The following players chose to participate in the skate: forwards Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary, Beau Bennett and Oscar Sundqvist, defensemen Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Ben Lovejoy, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot and goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury and Jeff Zatkoff.
The Pens and Bolts are tied at 1-1 in the series, and both teams faced similar scenarios in Round Two. The Penguins played the Washington Capitals at home in Game 3 with the series tied at 1-1. The Pens defeated the Caps 3-2 and went on to win the series in Game 6.
“Every game is huge, but obviously being tied 1-1 this is a big game,” said Schultz, who made his series debut in Game 2’s 3-2 overtime win. “You want to win every game in the playoffs, so we’re going to be prepared.”
The Bolts also entered Game 3 of Round Two tied 1-1, and they defeated the New York Islanders 5-4 on the road. Then, the Bolts won the next two games, ending the series in Game 5.
“I think overall in a series that you play the same team seven times you’re going to learn, and you’re going to readjust every time,” Letang said. “So your performance should increase.”
Game 3 is clearly a transitional game that can greatly impact a series.
“It’s always important to get the lead,” Letang explained. “Try to get the team uncomfortable and try to force the issue, try to get back in the game and by doing that it might open up the game.”
A VETERAN PRESENCE
Matt Cullen was drafted 35th overall in the 1996 NHL Draft, and since then, has played in 1,294 regular-season games and 87 postseason games. He played for eight different NHL teams, and he was a member of the Carolina Hurricanes when they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, contributing 18 points (4G-14A).
The Pens acquired Cullen as a free agent in August of 2015, and he has had an impressive season with the Pens. Cullen finished the regular season with 32 points (16G-16A), and he has earned six points (4G-2A) in the first 13 games of the postseason. Two of those goals were game-winners.
“I think as far as what he brings in the locker room and on the bench, I can’t say enough about his professionalism and how he influences the group,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think he’s really cherishing the opportunity to help some of the young players on our team. He’s played a lot with Tommy Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust for a lot of the season. Young guys that are just trying to break into the league, to have the opportunity to play with a guy like ‘Cully’ that’s won a Stanley Cup, that’s played for as long as he has, they can learn so much from a guy like that.”
At 39-years-old, Cullen has proved how much depth a veteran player can add to a young skillful team. Sullivan has been able to use Cullen in a variety of situations, and Cullen has often been called upon to step-up in the absence of injured players. When Evgeni Malkin was injured he filled the role of alternate captain and second-line center.
“We play him in a lot of key situations,” Sullivan said. “He’s a big part of the penalty kill. He takes a lot of defensive zone faceoffs for us. We’ve moved him up and down the lineup throughout the course of the season. Depending on what the needs are for our group on a given night, sometimes he plays the wing. Sometimes he plays center, and whatever we ask him to do he just says OK. That is an indication of the type of guy that he is.”
THE MAGIC GLOVE
Penguins’ goaltender Matt Murray has become an internet sensation after a clip from last night’s game began circulating around the web. People are claiming that in the video replay Anton Stralman’s shot appeared to have went right through Murray’s glove before going into the net.
“I would say don’t believe in everything you see on the internet,” Murray joked when asked about the video.
Although many have been fooled by the video, Murray is confident that he would be the one to know if the puck actually went through his glove.
“As a goalie with your equipment you have a sixth sense about it,” Murray explained. “It becomes a part of your body. You would be able to tell if it went through. I didn’t know about (the internet rumor) until this morning when I saw the video. It looks like someone cut out one frame or something. I think it was doctored in some way, but it was pretty funny I’m not going to lie.”
Whether the video was edited, or if the illusion is simply a result of an odd camera angle, Murray got a laugh out of the internet’s reaction.
“I got the glove I was using yesterday right here,” Murray laughed. “It’s all in good fun. That’s the internet for you nowadays.”
SHEARY PLAYING THROUGH ADVERSITY
Conor Sheary watched from the bench for the third period in Monday night’s 3-2 win. The rookie only spent 11:53 minutes on the ice, while Sullivan rotated the lines looking for a spark.
Sheary has been a staple on the Pens’ top unit since Round One against the New York Rangers, but Sullivan said it was a staff decision to keep him temporarily sidelined.
“I thought it was a bit of a struggle for Conor in the last game,” Sullivan said. “But players go through that. He’s brought a lot to our team over the course of the playoffs. He’s been a spark in a lot of our games. We don’t think less of Conor. He knows we believe in him. It was just a decision that the we made in between periods to move some people around, hoping to find a spark with some of our other guys.”
Even though Sheary wasn’t happy with his play, he hasn’t lost any confidence in his ability.
“You have to be patient with your game,” Sheary said. “When things aren’t going your way, you just have to stick with it and know that things will work out. I’m optimistic I can play and create offense in the series. I’m just going to keep my focus going forward.”
Written by Ashley Vesci and CJ Harvery