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Pens' Young Players Rise to the Occasion

by Brittany Goncar / Pittsburgh Penguins

The young stars of the Penguins stepped up in a big way in Game 4 against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night.

Trailing 3-0 in the opening round series, the Penguins were in desperate need of a win at Wells Fargo Center. The Penguins missed key players such as forwards Craig Adams, Arron Asham and James Neal due to suspensions. Defenseman Paul Martin was absent from the lineup with an undisclosed injury. It was time for the young stars to show what they are made of.

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They did just that.

Forward Eric Tangradi and defensemen Simon Despres and Brian Strait all took the ice in a game that was do or die for the Penguins. The Penguins pulled out a 10-3 victory over the Flyers to force a Game 5 Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center.

For Strait and Despres it was their debut in an NHL postseason game.

“Obviously you kind of get thrown into the fire for your first playoff game, but it was great,” Strait said. “It’s a situation that I love to be in. I was excited for the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Despres was excited to take in the rush of the crowd.

“I was a bit overwhelmed, but it gets me pumped up for the game,” he said about his nerves. “I like that. It’s awesome to play in that kind of environment.”

In only his second postseason game, the night was a little more special to Tangradi as he played in his hometown of Philadelphia. Though he’s played in Philadelphia in the regular season, the playoffs are a different atmosphere.

“It was definitely a little extra icing on the cake to go home and get a big win,” he said. “I’ve played at home before so I’ve tried to put that behind me. There are more important things at hand then getting caught up in that.”
The physical forward played a large role with linemates Jordan Staal and Mattt Cooke. In the first period he acted as the net-front presence for the assist on Staal’s game-winning goal.  

“I thought I did a good job,” he said. “I wanted to add a physical element into the game, I was able to get some hits early on.

“I had some shifts with ‘Staalsy’ and we were able to hold onto the puck and manage it and do good things. It was in a situation where I was kind of in a physical grinding mode and I thought I did well there too.”

The 6-4, 221-pound winger used his size to stay low with the puck and fulfill the physical grinding role. 

“It’s something that is going to make me successful,” he said. “That’s an element we look to exploit and we wanted to make their D work and we felt like we may have let them off the hook in the first three games.

“When we are possessing the puck low we are really wearing their guys down. It might not show in the first 40 minutes, but in the last 20 if we play a certain way we are going to get chances and that’s the way we play our type of game. “

There is no question that the Penguins exploited their style of game with goals reaching double digits. Despite the seven-point lead, the defensemen still had to do their work to protect the Penguins’ net.

“You just try to keep it simple,” Strait said. “Especially as a defenseman you try not to worry too much about the score, how many goals we have. (We just) try to just play your game and keep the puck out of your net.”

“It’s not that hard,” he said about guarding the net. “You just have to focus on the first game, the first five minutes, the first period. You try not to think too far ahead. In hockey anything can happen. With this group I think anything can happen and I believe in our chances.”

Before the game head coach Dan Bylsma commented on the amount of depth the Penguins’ organization. Faced with a plethora of injuries in the regular season, the young stars have performed before.

Brian Strait also added some defensive situations and minutes in the absence of Paul Martin,” Bylsma said. “I told Simon when he was sent to Wilkes-Barre that he was going to come back and play a big game for us. We thought that because we know he can do it. He’s been in those situations throughout the year. He certainly came back up in a big situation and played well.”

And on Wednesday they did it again.
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