Penguins forward Brandon Sutter was arguably the Penguins playoff MVP in their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, leading the Penguins with three goals (tied), including the Game 1 game-winning goal.
Sutter also was the spark to light the fire in the Penguins’ 3-1 win over Columbus in Game 5, dominating the ice, especially after being moved up to the second line with Jussi Jokinen and James Neal.
Sutter played a key part on Jokinen’s game-winning goal, taking advantage of a setup from Lee Stempniak to put the puck on the net and set up the rebound for Jokinen. He was dominant and all over the ice, something Neal acknowledged after Game 5.
“’Suttsy’ plays with a lot of speed,” Neal said. “He’s been good all playoffs… He has an ability to turn defense into offense.”
Sutter said he enjoyed playing with Jokinen and Neal, and thought things went well when he centered the second line. However, Sutter also said the third line with Beau Bennett and Joe Vitale that he also centered throughout the series did well too. In Game 1, Bennett was the one who set Sutter up for his game-winning goal, dishing it to him at center ice, before Sutter finished the play shooting it behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s right shoulder.
“It went pretty well,” Sutter explained of working with Jokinen and Neal. “Obviously we tried to shake things up a bit and different looks. It looked pretty good in the last game. I’m not sure what it looked like before ... It was definitely fun playing with those guys. They’re very talented offensive players. I thought we did a good job defensively too, which generated more offense. Whoever it’s going to be, whether it’s them or (Bennett and Vitale), it’s been pretty good the last few games.”
Sutter said that he thought he played well throughout Round 1, but couldn’t stop himself from giving credit to the whole Penguins team.
“Personally, I thought I played good for the most part,” Sutter said. “Not only me, but I’m sure a lot of guys feel the same way. That’s my linemates and everyone included, so it went pretty well ... but when it mattered we found a way to bear down and win.”
Sutter said that playing with the Penguins through to the Eastern Conference Final last year helped him to be a better player in this postseason. Sutter had never experienced a playoff atmosphere before last season, playing in his first playoff game against the New York Islanders.
In last season’s playoffs Sutter finished with three points (2G-1A) in 15 games and a better understanding of what kind of beast the playoffs can be. Already this season through six playoff games, his point total exceeds last season’s efforts. He has five points (3G-2A) entering the second round.
“I learned a lot. That’s first go around with it is a different level,” Sutter explained. “Last year was a fun experience and this year we’re obviously looking to go a little bit further than last year ... That experience definitely helps. You get a chance to come here your second time, you definitely know what to expect a bit more and how to prepare for it.”
He then added that through his experience last season, he learned a multitude of lessons, but the most important was how to control his emotions throughout the roller coaster of the playoffs.
“I think (you gain experience with) emotional control for one,” Sutter said. “There’s a lot of emotions than in the regular season in terms of the atmosphere in the building and the intensity, so controlling that. You (also learn how to) treat your body, your rest and your recovery. I spend a little extra time at the rink now just resting up ... More than anything it’s just the emotional and mental part of it. You have to focus on the next shift, not get too rattled up and keep playing your game.”