Pittsburgh's Philippe Boucher and Miroslav Satan have spent a lot of time this season in the shadows.
Monday night, they each took a turn in the spotlight during Pittsburgh's 3-2 victory against Carolina in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Boucher scored the game-winning goal -- his first postseason goal since 2004 -- and Satan had the game-opening goal, his first this postseason and first playoff goal since April 2007. Boucher also had an assist on Evgeni Malkin
Boucher did not even know he would be in the lineup until after the pre-game warmups. He was inserted into the lineup when Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma decided to dress defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who is playing his way back into shape after missing some time in the last series with a knee injury. Boucher was insurance, a reserve used to relieve some of the 5-on-5 responsibilities Gonchar would have to face.
Three hours later, Boucher had a goal and an assist and was named the first star of Game 1.
"It feels good," Boucher said. "That's what you play for; you play for the playoffs, to be part of it. It's an amazing feeling."
The fact that these two players were in the lineup Monday -- never mind making vital contributions -- is a study in perseverance.
Neither was in Pittsburgh's plans when the playoffs began. Boucher and Satan were relegated to playing three-on-three at the end of practices and skating laps under the watchful eyes of the team's strength and conditioning staff as they tried to stay in game shape.
Boucher missed 30 games down the stretch after undergoing foot surgery. When he returned, Pittsburgh was winning regularly with an established rotation of six defensemen. Suddenly, he was the odd-man out, wondering about his role.
Satan struggled early in the season after signing a free-agent deal to come to Pittsburgh. When the Penguins made a pair of trades at the deadline -- bringing in Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz
-- Satan and his hefty salary were considered excess to needs. He was shipped to the American Hockey League and languished in Wilkes-Barre until being recalled in the regular season's final week.
"They just waited their turns," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. "They have been really, really positive and supportive of the guys that have been in the lineup. That's a hard position for anybody to be in. You want to be playing and helping out.
"They stayed really focused and worked really hard and then, when they did get the opportunity, they were ready. I think everybody in the locker room is happy for those guys."
Not that it was easy for either player.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't (hoping to play more)," Boucher said. "Playing 3-on-3 and doing laps at the end of practice is not much fun, but when you haven't played much all year long, it's what you need to do.
"You hope you are put in a situation where you can help the team down the road. When you can help your team win, I guess it's worth it."
It certainly was worth it Monday night when both Satan and Boucher received the payoff for all the hardships each has endured in what only can be described as a trying season.
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor