Entering a postseason as the defending Stanley Cup champion guarantees a club precisely nothing, but there are some advantages that can be put to good use once the playoff games begin again.
We were tested, for sure, had to deal with some adversity. It’s what the playoffs are all about. It’s nothing any of us haven’t seen before - Bill Guerin
“We were tested, for sure, had to deal with some adversity,” Bill Guerin allowed after the Penguins’ 2-1, series-evening win over Ottawa in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Friday night at Mellon Arena.
“It’s what the playoffs are all about. It’s nothing any of us haven’t seen before.”
A possible exception was the goal surrendered by Marc-Andre Fleury
to Ottawa’s Peter Regin a mere 18 seconds after the opening faceoff.
But the Pens barely noticed.
“I loved the way we responded,” Mike Rupp insisted. “Not for one second did we feel anything on the bench where guys were like, ‘Oh, man, we’re down, 1-0.’
“‘Flower’ is perfectly capable of throwing up shutouts any night that he gets out there. But we know they’re probably going to score a goal, and they got their goal. It doesn’t matter if it happened right then or it happened halfway through the period. We stuck to our game.”
On this night the Penguins were all about the appropriate response.
They responded to that less-than-desirable start.
They responded to the loss of defenseman Jordan Leopold to injury late in the first period.
They responded all evening to the less-than-ideal position in the series they had found themselves in after dropping Game 1 at home, 5-4.
Their reward was a much-needed victory that was as reassuring as it was statistically and territorially dominant, and as attributable to individual effort as collective commitment.
Rupp responded with energy and a physical presence upon his return to the lineup in place of Ruslan Fedotenko.
Defensemen such as Brooks Orpik
(23:00) and Kris Letang
(23:32) responded to a thinned herd on the blueline by inhaling ice time (Sergei Gonchar logged 25:01, down from 25:27 in Game 1, believe it or not).
“You’re so caught up in the emotion of the game, you don’t want to get too physical and run out of position and waste a lot of energy when you’re playing with five guys,” Orpik said. “I thought the whole team, though; our forecheck was really great and I think we really wore down their defensemen, especially (Anton) Volchenkov and (Chris) Phillips.”
And then there was Sidney Crosby
, who produced his usual big-game heroics (a goal and a ridiculous, one-man-cycle of an assist on Letang’s game-winner) and this time added an exclamation point in the response department.
That would be the diving, back-handed swat of a puck that was rolling perilously close to the goal line behind Fleury with the game still tied at 1-1 and nine-plus minutes remaining in regulation.
It helped ensure that Fleury would conclude his personal bounce-back game un-scored upon in the final 59:42.
“That was definitely a tough one right off the bat,” Fleury said. “It was nice to see my teammates stick with it.”
“We did it by committee,” added Rupp. “That’s how you have to win hockey games, everyone pullin’.
“Every second wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t perfect. But one thing we did know, all of us, we were invested in the game. I think it’s just a matter of time until we can break a team when we’re playing like that.” Mike Prisuta is the sports director for WDVE-FM in Pittsburgh and the sports anchor with “Jim and Randy and the DVE Morning Show.”