Since the National Hockey League instituted the four-round best-of-seven format prior to the 1987 season, no team to this point has gone 16-0 on their way to earning a Stanley Cup championship. It’s probably a safe bet to conclude such a scenario won’t occur this season either.
Which means anybody rushing to crown the Ottawa Senators as Stanley Cup champions following their 5-4 victory over the Penguins in Game 1 Wednesday night might want to stop the press.
Likewise, dropping the opening contest doesn’t mean it’s time to write off the defending champions, even if that defeat came on home ice. If you need a brief history reminder on how insignificant falling behind can be, remember the 1991 Penguins, which also won the Stanley Cup, dropped the opening game in all four of their series – with three of those coming at the then-Civic Arena.
This current Penguins team has also proven themselves to be quite resilient in the face of adversity. Twice last season Pittsburgh overcame 2-0 series deficits – in the second round against the Washington Capitals and during the epic Stanley Cup Final victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
Not every team has the mental makeup and requisite on-ice skills to come back after falling behind in a series. It takes 20 players buying into the same structure and working together as one unit for the common good of one entity – the team. Oh, and it also takes a top-notch goaltending effort between the pipes.
While Pittsburgh has proven on numerous occasions its ability to rally together as a team, it’s the latter which has to make you feel good about the Penguins’ chances of turning around this series and making life more difficult on the Senators’ goal scorers. Marc-Andre Fleury
, now 25 years old and with 50 postseason starts and a Stanley Cup on his resume, has established himself as one of the elite goaltenders in the game. In addition to his list of dramatic saves, one of Fleury’s best characteristics is the way he always seems to rebound from subpar showings.
“You try to forget about it,” Fleury said. “I think it has happened before and it is going to happen again.”
Fleury was not as sharp as he would have liked to have been in Game 1, surrendering five Ottawa goals on 26 shots.
“As a goalie it hurts to give up five goals,” Fleury said.
Maybe in his younger days the Sorel, Quebec native would have allowed such a showing to affect his psyche heading into Friday’s Game 2 at Mellon Arena, but with so many bounce-back performances under his belt, Fleury’s coaches and teammates are not concerned with how is going to respond.
“Marc is our guy,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’re confident in the guy that we have back there. He’s a guy who has made big saves for us. That’s who he is for us. He’s also a guy who can bounce back and is ready the next time that he gets in the net. That’s definitely going to be something that we need from him in Game 2.”
“That is just what he does,” Jordan Staal
said. “He is a goaltender we all believe in. We all know he is going to work and play hard every night. If he has a tough night he’ll be able to bounce back.”
Fleury says his strong mental resolve has developed as a result in playing in so many pressure-packed contests the past two postseasons. He’s learned that dealing with the ebbs and flows which accompany a long postseason run includes having to realize with a new sunrise comes a chance to look towards the games ahead rather than those whose outcome you cannot change.
“I felt better this morning than I did (Wednesday), that’s for sure,” Fleury said. “My experience helps a lot just by playing games. I think at a young age I had to deal with that. I don’t try to trick myself thinking about stuff.”
And frankly, why would Fleury waste his time worrying about any of the shots he might have wanted back in Game 1? This is a guy who was pulled from the net in Game 5 of last season’s Final, then responded by stopping 48 of 50 shots the next two contests to help secure the Penguins’ title.
“He has always rebounded and played a lot better after games where he hasn’t been as strong,” Brooks Orpik
said. “I don’t think (Wednesday) was his best, but I don’t think we were strong in front of him either. I don’t think the finger is being pointed anywhere in this room.”
Fleury is not only confident that he will rebound in Game 2, but he also expects an even stronger effort from the Penguins as a whole, despite the fact he thinks the team played better than maybe the 5-4 outcome would otherwise indicate.
“I think we played alright,” Fleury said. “Sometimes we might not have gotten the chances as much as we would have wanted. We scored four goals and the guys battled to the end.
“We ran into some bad luck there with the glass. There were a couple of saves I could have made. We can’t panic.”
With a plethora of postseason success the past two seasons and a goaltender who seems to rise to the occasion each time the Penguins need it, you can bet there won’t be any panic from the Penguins as they attempt to reverse this series.