Penguins are NHL’s version of “Strength in Numbers”
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a franchise that reaches the Stanley Cup Final in pairs.
1991 and 1992, 2008 and 2009 and now 2016 and 2017.
“The last 2 years have been quite a ride. We’ll try to do it for another 2 weeks,” Game 7 overtime hero Chris Kunitz said of the Penguins returning to the Stanley Cup Final after Thursday night’s epic 3-2 overtime win.
The Ottawa Senators thanks to Craig Anderson overachieved in the Eastern Conference Final and came so close to delivering a shocking Ottawa – Nashville Stanley Cup Final but the Penguins once again just found a way to get the job done.
“This was a hard fought series and we knew it was going to be a hard fought series going in,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “Ottawa is a really good team. They’re not here by accident. They’re a really good team and they’re hard to play against.
“I’m proud of our group for the resilience that they showed throughout the course of this series,” Sullivan added. “The leadership has shown so much will to win. They look at this as a great opportunity to write their story.”
This has became a team whose roster is truly built on being “strength in numbers”.
How this Penguin blueline has got it done this postseason has shocked hockey folks around the league and maybe even this Penguin coaching staff if we gave them truth serum.
The Penguins are in the Stanley Cup without that pivotal franchise type No. 1 defenseman and you can argue they might not even have a true No. 2 defenseman in the lineup right now.
Game 7, Pittsburgh’s default No. 1 defenseman right now Olli Maatta in the eyes of assistant coach Jacques Martin was dreadful after the first period in the 2OT win and anything Ron Hainsey touched was either a turnover or an icing.
Yet, the Penguins held Ottawa to 29 shots in just over 105 minutes.
What stood out in Game 7 and late in the series being another example of just the depth this hockey club has, especially at the forward position.
Chris Kunitz was the obvious headliner but there were others who came through in the clutch Thursday night.
Conor Sheary sitting in the press box is where he deserved to be the last chunk of games based on his play this postseason but tonight he gets back in the lineup and plays a big role in the win. Someone in that coaching staff had to have had a feel on Sheary.
Gets elevated to the top line and delivers with an assist on the Penguins opening goal, 4 shots on goal and had the best possession numbers 5 vs 5 among Penguin skaters.
Sheary created a key play at his own blueline that lead to Kunitz rush goal in the second period and was gaining more confidence as the game progressed. He was backing up defenders with his speed and this was more regular season Sheary than the playoff Sheary we had been seeing.
Then there’s Scott Wilson.
A 4th liner, extra forward for much of the season, he’s now the Penguins second line left winger and had the fourth most ice time among forwards in Game 7.
Meanwhile, Jake Guentzel the star of the first two rounds, was on the 4th line and had the least amount of ice time among all Penguin players tonight, which was a bit questionable as he’s one of the Penguins best pure goal scorers and they needed a goal in OT, but still shows where if you’re not playing well, there’s options to plug another player in your spot.
Carter Rowney again tonight flashing excellent wall play and physicality with 7 hits is the type of flying under the radar play that continues to show how deep the Penguins are and how they can go in so many different directions with their personnel.
A guy like Carl Hagelin who was so valuable to the Penguins Cup run in 2016 is now mostly an afterthought and that’s a little bit on Hagelin but also a testament of the depth the Penguins have where others can pass you up quickly.
WE WANT THE CUP
— This is now seven consecutive playoff series wins for the Penguins as the franchise is four wins away from a fifth Stanley Cup and Sidney Crosby is on the cusp of doing something Mario Lemieux didn’t do in 17 seasons, win three Stanley Cups.
And if this group gets another one this season, their window remains wide open to win a couple more.
Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final was the Penguins 208th game over the last two seasons. This has been a group at times this postseason that has started to look fatigued but there’s no denying they started to find an extra gear over the last four games of the series.
Don’t count out the Penguins will and determination to push through against the Predators. For the first time all postseason, the Penguins have found their game.
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