The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the Stanley Cup playoffs missing one key trait – playoff experience.
They certainly have that now.
The Penguins and Senators endured a physical Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Although the Senators won the series, 4-1, the young Penguins did not come away empty-handed – they learned the ins and outs of playoff hockey.
With 16 players on the roster who had never appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game, the Penguins were humbled in a Game 1 loss in Ottawa.
“Going into it, I think a lot of people made a big deal about the experience factor and we kind of shrugged it off, saying we were a young team with a lot of energy and stuff,” Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “I think as we’ve gone on here, experience is a pretty big factor and you want to learn as much as you can as you go.
“I think it’s definitely an eye-opener. At the same time, I think you can get kind of caught up in it as you’re going,” he continued. “When you finish your playoffs, you’ll look back on it and that’s when you absorb everything and learn from it.”
The Penguins took the lessons learned from Game 1 and rebounded for a win in Game 2.
“Playing in the playoffs benefits us a lot. Every game, you take a lot of experience through how tough the game is or how physical it is or how tight the game is,” Penguins center Max Talbot said. “You learn every game and you get more and more experience. So, it’s definitely a really valuable experience we got.”
That experience is crucial to a young team as it continues to progress in the future.
“Experience, you can’t do anything about it except play. I think everybody is really fortunate to get the experience to make the playoffs at a young age,” Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “Our goal is not to stop here, though. We want to win.”
Being in the postseason has allowed the young Penguins to get many of the “firsts” out of the way – the first win, the first goals, etc. Some of the milestones reached through the first four games include:
April 11 – Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal scored their first-career Stanley Cup playoff goals.
April 14 – The Penguins earned their first Stanley Cup playoff win since May 15, 2001.
April 14 – Ryan Whitney scored his first-career Stanley Cup playoff goal.
April 14 – Fleury earned his first-career Stanley Cup playoff win.
April 16 – The Penguins hosted their first Stanley Cup playoff game at Mellon Arena since May 19, 2001.
April 16 – Crosby became the fourth teenager in NHL history to score a goal in each of the first three postseason games of his career. The others were Wendel Clark (four games, 1986 Maple Leafs), Paul Coffey (three games, 1981 Oilers) and Glen Wesley (three games, 1988 Bruins).
“Yeah, the little things like winning our first game and Sid scoring his first goal,” Talbot said. “Fleury was been great for us in goal, too.”
Going through a playoff series helped the Penguins adjust to the postseason this year. However, it will pay off next season and beyond, too.
“Now, we’re more ready and we know more what to expect from games coming in,” Talbot said. “That was the main thing about making the playoffs. We’re not only excited about being in the playoffs and getting the experience, we want more and more experience.”
Prior to this season, the Penguins went six years between playoff appearances. So, it’s been a valuable learning for Penguins players and fans alike. In addition, the team’s run has helped lay the foundation for many more postseason pushes.
“I think we learned from every game. It’s always a benefit to be able to play in the playoffs and get that experience,” Fleury said. “We’re still young, so it’s good to get it at that age.”