"We were tested by a very good team that played a good game and that's what the playoffs are all about. They played hard and well and played their system very well and it tested us. That's something we needed to have happen." - Penguins coach Dan Bylsma
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the first team since the 2000 Dallas Stars to win a playoff round the spring after losing in the Stanley Cup Final.
If they'd like to become the first team since the 1996 Detroit Red Wings to win two playoff rounds the year after losing the Cup final, however, they know there is much more work needed.
"We can and we're going to have to (raise our game)," Penguins forward Bill Guerin said.
The Penguins did a lot of things right in getting past the Philadelphia Flyers in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, capped by rallying from a 3-0 second-period deficit for a series-clinching 5-3 victory Saturday in Game 6. But the one glaring problem is the Penguins' power play, which went 0-for-3 in Game 6 and 1-for-19 over the final four games of the series.
That's not what you expect from a team that can trot out two of the League's top three scorers, one of the elite offensive-minded defensemen of his generation and a dominant net-front presence on its first power-play unit.
But rather than produce at prodigious levels, they showed decent puck movement, but an inability to get shots through to the net -- or even to take shots.
"Certainly (power play) is going to be a huge difference in games for us if we want to keep winning," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
said. "We've got to figure it out. We did some good things; it's a matter of executing and putting it in."
While the Flyers certainly played well killing penalties, there were far too many missed chances for the Penguins.
The Penguins also had defensive breakdowns at times, most noticeably in Philadelphia's 6-3 win in Game 3 and in Game 6, long passes led to a pair of goals in the Flyers' early onslaught. Claude Giroux passed the puck across the width of the ice to Joffrey Lupul, who scored to put the Flyers up 2-0, and Simon Gagne's pass to Danny Briere, which led to the Flyers' third goal, saw Brooks Orpik
on the wrong side of the puck.
"We knew we had to tighten it up because not only do they come with three guys, but they come with their defensemen … they come with their fourth and fifth guys, in second waves,” Crosby said. “If we're not coming back hard through the middle, they're going to make those plays. They have talented players. We knew we had to keep pucks in their end and then come back and cover those situations better."
They did that in the second half of the game, when they needed to lock down the game, and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said his team passed its first test of the spring.
"You have to get tested," Bylsma said. "The Stanley Cup Playoffs are not a breeze, it's not a walk-through. The No. 1 seed's not going to make it all the way to the Final without a test. You're going to get tested and you're going to have your back against a wall. You're going to have to deal with a loss, and we certainly were tested. We were really tested. They put us back on our heels, they knocked us on our butts a couple times. They had a 3-0 lead and our guys, when the chips were down stuck with the game plan. We stuck with it and we kept fighting back. That's something I think we didn't do as well in Game 5 and (Saturday) we did. It paid dividends."
Bylsma said what the Penguins learned in this series will carry them into the next round.
"We were tested by a very good team that played a good game and that's what the playoffs are all about," Bylsma said. "They played hard and well and played their system very well and it tested us. That's something we needed to have happen. We were tested and we responded and hopefully we've learned that lesson, that we can stick with that game plan, whether it's the power play and being more consistent in how we make plays or sticking to our game plan no matter what the score or situation is. That was the test of this series. They did push us to areas where we did deviate a little bit, but in Game 6 here we were tested and we stuck with it, stuck with the game plan."Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer