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Special teams key to Pens' success

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Special teams are so crucial to having success in the playoffs, and right now, both the power play and penalty kill are clicking for the Pens.

The power play in particular had an afternoon to remember in Game 5 on Sunday, going 3-for-3 in Pittsburgh's 7-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Trevor Daley, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby all recorded a goal and an assist, while Evgeni Malkin collected a trio of helpers. Afterward, the players all said that the biggest reason for their success was patience.

"We took the options that were there. We didn't really force anything," said Crosby, who has a power-play goal in three straight games for the first time in his postseason career. "We shot the puck when there were opportunities to shoot it and when it was time to make plays, we executed well. A lot of times that's a big thing with the power play, just execution and making the right play selection, and we did that."

Head coach Mike Sullivan also liked their willingness to put the puck on net, which Daley in particular epitomized.

"I think we're willing to shoot the puck when the lanes are there to shoot the puck," Sullivan said. "I think that's an important aspect of having a good power play, you have to establish a shot. We can create our offense off of that."

It's especially impressive what the power play, which has five goals in the last three games, has been able to do considering the changing personnel. They're without a couple of quarterbacks in Kris Letang and Justin Schultz and their usual netfront presence in Patric Hornqvist.

But despite that, the players who have stepped in to help replace those guys have fit in nicely. Kessel said afterward they have confidence in whoever the coaches put out on the ice.

"I credit the players that are on the power play at this point," Sullivan said. "They're winning loose pucks. Their entries on the breakouts, they're executing really well. They're making the right plays. Their decisions with the puck and their awareness has been really good. Those guys have done a terrific job for us."

The penalty kill has also been incredibly effective for the Pens, keeping Ottawa from scoring a power-play goal this series. The Sens went 0-for-4 in the game and are 0-for-11 overall.

And while their struggles date back to the previous round, that doesn't take anything away from what the Pens have been able to do this round. Especially with a player like Erik Karlsson quarterbacking their unit.

"The penalty kill, quietly throughout the course of these playoffs, has done a great job," Sullivan said. "They're competitive guys. They compete hard. They're willing to block shots."

Winger Carl Hagelin, who logged a team-high 4:10 shorthanded minutes on Sunday, said having an aggressive mindset is the biggest reason for their success.

"We don't let them set up too many times and I think we've done a better job up the ice not giving them too much time to get an easy entry on us," he said. "I think that's key."

And for Sullivan, another key is that those players are getting 200-foot clears. It's easy to think just getting it out is enough, but they're managing to send the puck the entire length of the ice and that's a game-changer.

"When you get an opportunity to get a 200-foot clear, I think it helps your penalty kill so much more," Sullivan explained. "You're forcing a power play to spend 20, 25 seconds to gain access to your zone and have to expend the energy to do so. The penalty killers I think have really stepped up for us. It's an important element of the game. So we've got to continue to keep that mindset and have that urgency to our game on our penalty kill so that we can continue moving forward here to have success."

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