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Niskanen Quietly Stepping Up

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Matt Niskanen is a coach’s dream.

He’s the kind of player who does everything right, but does it in a steady, quiet manner. No bells and whistles for this Minnesota kid.

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And because of that, Niskanen may have flown under the radar most of the regular season despite developing into one of the Penguins’ most consistent and reliable defenders in his first full season with Pittsburgh.

But with Pittsburgh’s opening round series against the Philadelphia Flyers unfolding in a way that defies explanation, Niskanen’s value to this team has become readily apparent.

“He's a really calming influence when he's in the lineup,” fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “He's not the flashiest guy in the world. He's a guy that does everything well.”

Niskanen hasn’t just been a steady presence for the Penguins on the backend. He’s done that in the offensive zone as well, recording three points (1G-2A) in just two games played this postseason.

Niskanen scored a huge goal off a one-timer in the first period of Wednesday’s Game 4 against the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center, then followed that up by sending another shot to the net that re-directed off Sidney Crosby and past Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov – the first of eight unanswered goals by the Penguins in their 10-3 victory.

“His best attribute is his ability to get his shot off and from through from the point,” Orpik said. “You saw that on the goal last night and the one Sid tipped in.”

But apart from Niskanen’s all-around steadiness, what’s also shining through are his guts and his character.

Niskanen missed six of the team’s last nine regular-season contests and sat out Games 1 and 2 with an upper-body injury. And though Niskanen’s injury wasn’t where it needed to be heading into Game 3, he gutted out a return to the lineup when his team needed him most once he reached the point where he had enough strength in the aggrieved area to be functional.

“It’s not fun being out,” Niskanen said. “The way the first two games went made it extra hard, I think. Kind of pushed to come back a little earlier than I would have liked to, but it’s great to be back in the lineup. Just trying to help out any way I can. It was great to see good results (Wednesday).”

“He really wanted to get back in the lineup,” Orpik said. “If it was the regular season I'm sure he would have been out for a little bit longer. It's good to see his commitment there and will to play.”

And no matter what discomforts he’s pushing himself through, Niskanen is going to do whatever it takes to help the team. If that means logging more minutes, so be it. Bring it on.

“At this time of year, everybody has to be ready when called upon. If the demand is there, then we need guys to step up,” Niskanen said. “It’s something I’m comfortable with and have done in the past. I’m enjoying it right now. Whatever is needed to be done, I’m ready to do it and I think a lot of guys in the room have that attitude.”
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