When the Penguins’ postseason run began on May 1 against the NY Islanders, Tyler Kennedy found himself watching the action – from the press box.
It was an unfamiliar situation for Kennedy, who has been a regular in the Penguins’ lineup since his rookie campaign in 2007-08 and a key member of their Stanley Cup title and back-to-back Cup Final appearances.
“Obviously, whenever you sit out, it’s tough,” Kennedy said, “but you have to stay positive and be strong for the guys in our room, for the team and that’s just part of playing hockey, you know? Just trying to buy in and trying to win as a team.”
Kennedy, 26, was the odd-man out of a numbers game as the Penguins’ took a nearly healthy and deep lineup into the postseason. Kennedy knew that he could be called upon at any time and tried to stay sharp.
“You need to be on top of your game at practice to show you’re ready to go anytime you’re asked,” he said. “That’s part of being a professional.”
Kennedy patiently watched four games as the Islanders use their blistering speed as an advantage against the Penguins to even the opening-round series at 2-2. Head coach Dan Bylsma, trying to match the Islanders’ speed, inserted the swift-footed Kennedy back into the lineup for Game 5.
“’TK’ was one of the good players that sat out for our team,” Bylsma said. “When he did get inserted back into the lineup immediately he gave us speed on the third and fourth line. It was a big factor against the Islanders.”
Kennedy’s speed, tenacity and forecheck helped negate the Islanders’ lopsided edge from his opening shift. But his biggest impact in the game came at the seven-minute mark of the second period.
With the game scoreless, Kennedy came off the bench and sneaked behind the Islanders defensemen. Kris Letang hit him with a breakout pass from the Penguins zone and Kennedy entered the New York zone on a breakaway. He snapped a shot over the shoulder of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead. They would hold on for a 4-0 win and Kennedy’s goal stood as his sixth career playoff game-winning goal – ranking sixth in franchise history.
“It was nice,” Kennedy said of the goal. “It was definitely nice to get that off my shoulders and try to help the team win.”
Kennedy’s production has continued. He has two goals and five points in his seven playoff games and has been re-elevated to his normal third-line position with Matt Cooke and Brandon Sutter.
“He’s up on the forecheck and he’s got some energy on the bench and he’s a little firebug out there, so it’s been fun to play with him,” Sutter said. “When he’s skating, when he’s going, he’s really effective. He can create some space and help us make plays and do things like that and he’s got a good shot, too.”
Although it was tough for Kennedy to sit out those first four games, his positive attitude helped him get another shot at playing, and his stellar work on the ice has earned him a spot with the team ever since.
“We’re all human. We want to be playing,” Cooke said. “We want to be counted upon, not only in this room, but out there on the ice and it’s tough to sit out. It’s tough, it’s humbling and I think he did a great job keeping himself ready and given the opportunity to come back in and play, he came in with a lot of energy and made a statement with the way that he played, that he wanted to stay in the lineup.”