When the final buzzer sounded at Mellon Arena on Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins had regained their lead, 3-2, in the second-round playoff series after valiantly defeating the Montreal Canadiens, 2-1, in a tight contest. While the team received solid goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury
, as well as picked up two goals from defensemen Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang
, the strength of Pittsburgh’s fourth line also helped the Penguins to battle hard against the Habs and clinch the W for the night.
Composed of Mike Rupp, Craig Adams
and Mark Letestu, the fourth line maintained a powerful presence during the eight minutes that the trio played in the contest, demonstrating how teams must utilize the strength of each of their lines during the postseason if they want to be successful in eliminating their opponents.
“Over the course of the playoffs, if you want to go the whole way, then you’re going to have to play 20-something games, and you can’t lean on just one or two lines,” said Rupp, who missed the last game with an undisclosed injury. “It has to be everybody. Of course, we have a couple of lines that carry us for most of the time, but it’s always nice when, with the depth that we have, we are able to step up and chip in and kind of establish ourselves. I think that we did a good job of that tonight.”
“I thought that we were pretty good tonight, and I thought that Rupper (Mike Rupp) had a great game after sitting out the other day,” Adams agreed. “I thought that Mark (Letestu) was great, too, so you have to give full credit to those guys. I thought that, especially in the first period, they did a good job setting the tone.”
Adams set the tone with 13 seconds remaining in the first period after laying out Montreal’s Josh Gorges at the far boards in the offensive zone and knocking him to the ground – much to the crowd’s delight.
“There wasn’t much time left in the period, and it was a 50-50 puck,” Adams said. “I probably have a better chance of getting a good hit than making a good play with the puck, so that’s the mentality up there.”
Letestu also picked up his first postseason point in his career in the National Hockey League after assisting Sergei Gonchar’s goal at 9:50 in the second period.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it, but it’s a relief,” Letestu admitted with a smile. “It took me 13 games to get one, so it’s a nice feeling. I think that anytime that you can produce a little bit, you get some confidence. I think that my plays are really starting to feel comfortable out there. Hopefully we stay in the lineup and keep rolling.”
“He’s a very intelligent hockey player, and I think that’s probably one of his strongest assets,” Rupp said. “With this time here, he was managing the puck and doing the right things and making the right decisions. It comes as second-nature to him, and it’s easy to play with a guy like that. I’m happy for him. I thought that he did a great job, and he’s been playing well for us. We look to play with him again, and hopefully we can continue the same thing.”
After watching Letestu play with the team at different points throughout the year, Adams acknowledged that the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton recall performs like a true NHL forward in the minds of all of the players.
“He does a lot of things well, so good for him,” Adams said. “At this point, I don’t think that we really care where the contributions come from, but good for him. He played another great game tonight.”
After watching Letestu play in 10 games during the regular season and three in the postseason, head coach Dan Bylsma said that the 25-year-old forward has always been an important factor in each of the contests. In fact, Letestu nearly notched his first NHL goal in the third period of Game 5 after sending a quick shot to the net from the left circle.
“Every game he has added something,” Bylsma said. “Every game he has made a play. He has won draws. He got on the power play and won a draw there. Tonight again, he got an assist on the goal, but he also had a great scoring chance early on in the third period there. Mike Rupp gave him the pass and he cut in behind the defense and made that great move. He was a factor in the defensive zone.”
In addition to the contributions by Adams and Letestu, Bylsma also pointed out Rupp’s ability to make a lasting impact in the game after he stationed himself at the front of the Canadiens net to provide the always-important screen that ultimately led to the game-winning goal scored by Gonchar.
“You want to have an impact on the game,” Bylsma said. “Everyone has a different way to do that. Right from the start from Mike Rupp it was evident he was going to be a factor in the game. He was going to determined to add being physical or hanging onto the puck – whatever it took.”
“They did a great job,” captain Sidney Crosby
said of the fourth line. “Letestu got his first assist and was a big part of that goal. At the same time, they generated some really good chances besides that. You expect a physical edge and a physical side from them. When they’re creating chances, then that adds another dynamic and hopefully adds momentum that we want to keep throughout a game.”
While the success of the fourth line stood out in the minds of both fans and players alike, Letestu said that he is not at all surprised by their efficiency since the strong depth of the team has always enabled the Penguins to clinch important victories during both the regular-season and postseason games.
“I think that something that this team has had all year is depth,” he said. “Anytime that the line can chip in with a goal or an assist is really a bonus. It’s not really what they’re relying on us for. We just try to keep it simple and provide energy and keep the momentum going.”