INSIDE HOCKEY » Pittsburgh Penguins http://insidehockey.com Get Inside! Wed, 01 Oct 2014 02:15:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 More Tough Luck for Bennett Opens Door for 18-year-old Kapanen http://insidehockey.com/more-tough-luck-for-bennett-opens-door-for-18-year-old-kapanen http://insidehockey.com/more-tough-luck-for-bennett-opens-door-for-18-year-old-kapanen#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 16:54:44 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59237

After missing most of last season due to injury, Beau Bennett had surgery for an ongoing wrist issue immediately after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs. He was the first one back in Pittsburgh this summer to prepare for the upcoming season, and his hard work during four months of rehab showed as he was perhaps the Penguins’ best player in the first week of the preseason.

“It’s still getting strength back but I felt good with all my fitness testing, feel good on the ice, feel good with my shot, so back to my normal stick,” said Bennett, who called himself “useless” in the six second-round games he played against the New York Rangers last spring due to his inability to shoot. “It was a good summer and [I feel] really positive going into this year. No limitations whatsoever.”

In his first two preseason games, the 22-year-old, former first-round draft pick had notched a goal – a wrister that showed the extent of his healing – and an assist on a no-look pass to center Brandon Sutter, with whom he’d been displaying promising chemistry, particularly since making the switch back to his natural right wing under new head coach Mike Johnston.

“Last year, I was even a little bit banged up in the preseason. It’s nice to come in and be really healthy and eat my vegetables and have strong bones,” Bennett joked. “In recent years, I’ve just been kind of [throwing] it toward the net, and today I was trying to pick spots.”

All of the summer’s promise and hard work, however, were crushed Friday morning when Bennett had to be helped off the ice after sustaining a lower-body injury in practice.

“He was in the drill and, when he was skating across the ice, [2014 first-rounder Kasperi] Kapanen’s skate clipped him on the back of the heel, and so he spun around in an awkward manner and went down on the ice,” Johnston said.

Bennett’s spirits were also crushed. “Haven’t had the best luck and no one is more mad/sad than me,” he tweeted that afternoon. “It’s getting embarrassing, I’m sorry.”

“Kind of a freak play,” Sutter said. “Tough luck; the guy’s had some bad luck. He’s been great to play with so far; hopefully we’ll be back on the ice together soon.”

That reunion will be about six weeks off, Johnston said Saturday. He declined to cite the specific nature of Bennett’s injury, but the timeframe seems to indicate the forward escaped what could have been a serious knee issue.

“It was just one of those unfortunate things,” Johnston said. “I talked to him after and, when he left the ice, he was thinking, ‘Oh no, here I go again.’ If you look at the injuries he’s had, it’s not like he can’t battle through things, [but] there’s certain injuries that are unavoidable, like that one there.”

The relatively short timeframe for recovery, compared to some of the other situations Bennett has dealt with, should make it easier for him to keep his spirits up, said his new coach, whose son played youth hockey with Bennett when Johnston was an assistant for the Los Angeles Kings.

“Right now, I just said, ‘Hey, you’ve got six weeks,’” Johnston said. “He’ll be back working out, he’ll be back skating. I told him to get in the video sessions, be part of the team, be ready to go. At least his mindset now’s on when his next game’s going to be, not ‘Here we go again.’”

In the meantime, ironically, the young man who clipped Bennett with his skate might stand to benefit from the situation.

After impressing with his poise and maturity on and off the ice in the Penguins’ rookie camp, the 18-year-old Kapanen started the NHL preseason looking like a boy against men at times, despite playing against men regularly in the Finnish Elite League.

“It’s amazing playing with NHL guys; it’s eye-opening,” he said after his first NHL action Tuesday in Columbus. “It was tough. It’s a high-tempo game, defensive stuff … everything happens so quick, so you’ve got to be on your toes.

“The style of the game is not so intense [in Finland]; it’s more of a talented game, if you could say that, and the rink’s probably two times bigger than this one over here. It will take time for me to adjust, but I think I’ll do fine.”

Over the course of the week, Kapanen showed the coaching staff enough improvement that they were prepared to use him on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz when the Penguins hosted Columbus Saturday afternoon.

Although Crosby did not make his preseason debut as scheduled, going home to Nova Scotia following the death of his grandmother, Kapanen still had the chance to play alongside high-quality talent – and audition for the suddenly vacant top-six role Bennett had been a candidate to fill to start the season.

“That’s an unfortunate injury for Beau. Obviously it opens up a spot for somebody and, like everybody here, I’m just fighting for a spot,” Kapanen said. “I’ll keep playing my game – use my strengths, the things that got me here – and hopefully I’ll get it.”

The rookie took full advantage of the opportunity in his outing versus the Blue Jackets, notching a power-play goal and showing high-level skill en route to being named the game’s No. 1 star.

“I think it’s always exciting to get your first National Hockey League goal, so it’s a big thing for me and just gives me more confidence and hopefully there’s more to come,” Kapanen said. “Of course you’re a little bit [more] comfortable when you know what’s coming at you; I don’t know if you just feel more calm and you know what to do a little better. I felt pretty good playing without the puck and with the puck. If I didn’t even score that goal, I’d say it was my best game so far.”

“We tried to play him in different spots, just to see how he looks with players and to see if he could play with guys like that,” Johnston said. “I thought he looked good. He’s very good on the power play; you can see his offensive skills and his instincts. I think defensively he’s still got to learn the game, and I’ve seen big strides in the last couple days. You have to remember a guy like him is coming over and playing on a different ice surface, so things do change that way.

“But his skill and his speed and his poise with the puck is very good. He could be a good that could jump in for opening night.”

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Penguins Learn New Systems, Compete for Roles After Summer of Change http://insidehockey.com/penguins-learn-new-systems-compete-for-roles-after-summer-of-change http://insidehockey.com/penguins-learn-new-systems-compete-for-roles-after-summer-of-change#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 02:52:38 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=59202

Friday, as the Pittsburgh Penguins hit the ice for their first formal practice, the organization unveiled its new third jersey, a throwback to the early 1990s teams that won two Stanley Cups.

It was a canny marketing decision, bringing back the beloved “Pittsburgh gold” closely associated with owner Mario Lemieux and lending a feeling of familiarity to a team that looks radically different than the one that blew a 3-1 series lead to be ushered out of the playoffs by the New York Rangers last May.

Gone are general manager Ray Shero, head coach Dan Bylsma, and assistant coaches Tony Granato, Todd Reirden and, for the most part, Jacques Martin, who moved upstairs into an advisory role. In their places are general manager Jim Rutherford and a team of associate and assistant GMs in Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin, all of whom were promoted from other roles in the organization. New head coach Mike Johnston came from the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for his first NHL head coaching gig and will be assisted by former Penguin Rick Tocchet – who won a Cup in Pittsburgh gold in 1992 – and Gary Agnew, formerly an assistant in St. Louis and Columbus.

At forward, gone is sniper James Neal, who scored 40 goals two years ago alongside Evgeni Malkin, traded at the draft for lle Predators Patric Hornqvist, who might take a spot alongside Malkin, and Nick Spaling, who’s expected to contribute versatility in a bottom-six role. The team lost scoring in free agent Jussi Jokinen and grit in Joe Vitale and Tanner Glass, but brought in Blake Comeau, Steve Downie and Daniel Carcillo in an attempt to improve the bottom-six depth they lacked last season and make them a tougher team to play against.

“You need energy guys like that on the team and, to me, physical guys and energy guys, those are the guys that we are looking for in our lineup in depth positions,” Johnston said. “We’ll evaluate them as a group and see where they fit in.”

On the blueline, Matt Niskanen stepped up as the Penguins’ best defenseman in his contract year, and it paid off as he and fellow free-agent D Brooks Orpik departed for long-term deals in Washington. Offensive-minded Christian Ehrhoff signed with Pittsburgh for a year, and several young defensemen, like Simon Despres and the currently injured Derrick Pouliot, who played under Johnston in Portland, are expected to have the chance to show they’re ready for regular work in the NHL. Veteran goaltender Thomas Greiss signed on and will compete with Jeff Zatkoff to back up starter Marc-Andre Fleury.

After so much change, this year’s camp and preseason is significant in terms of the players and staff getting to know new systems and each other. One early consensus was that Johnston expects hard work and lots of skating, including practices that ended with windsprints.

“It was really tough out there; they really put a great standard for this training camp,” Hornqvist said. “We want to be better every single time we’re stepping on the ice, and Mike did a great job today about that.”

“As a team he wants us to play pretty fast, always to be a puck-possession team and create chances for ourselves,” said center Marcel Goc. “Everybody’s got to know what everybody’s supposed to do on the ice, where your spot’s supposed to be and, once we start trusting each other and knowing that everybody knows what he’s supposed to do, I think we can have a lot of success.”

In early practices, the Penguins worked on specific situations, special teams, a 1-3-1 defensive structure and the neutral-zone forecheck. “My feeling with the neutral-zone forecheck is it shouldn’t happen more than two or three times a game,” Johnston said. “If you’re really playing the right way, if you’re putting some pressure on the puck in the neutral zone, I don’t want to sit back and get into a forecheck. If it happens, it happens, but we’re going to try to push the puck.”

The Penguins welcomed some players back from surgeries, including forward Pascal Dupuis, who’s wearing a red, no-contact jersey, and forward Beau Bennett and second-year defenseman Olli Maatta, who have no restrictions. They’re missing some key players, however, in Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Chris Kunitz, who have missed some or all of camp so far with minor injuries the team doesn’t want to aggravate.

Monday, this new group of players will start combining their instincts with what they’ve learned over the past few days when they host the Detroit Red Wings for their first preseason contest.

“I think any time there is change, there’s a renewed focus to a degree, because everybody wants to know what am I supposed to do, what’s my role, what’s my responsibility,” Johnston said. “There’s going to be some new things we’re trying here that maybe you’ve done before or haven’t done before. What you need to do is ask some questions and then, when we head into the games, you need to be able to play the game.

“So, [Monday], we’re going to talk a lot about just playing the game and relying on your instincts. We’ll talk on the bench, we’ll teach but, certainly, with change, there’s some new ideas, new concepts, and some that the players are going to grasp right away and others we’ll have to work on.”

And, with more depth and competition for spots on this year’s training camp roster, the coaching staff will be evaluating. However, Johnston said, they’ll be looking less at how players acclimate to the system and more at how hard they work for the opportunity.

“It’s a competitive situation right now – guys are vying for ice time, minutes, roles and responsibilities, who’s going to play with who. So, the competition starts to heat up. It’s about competing for spots and learning to play the system, but I don’t want the system and the strategy and style of play to overtake the compete and energy in the game.”

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Penguins Assemble Rutherford-led GM Team; Dismiss Bylsma as Coach http://insidehockey.com/penguins-assemble-rutherford-led-gm-team-dismiss-bylsma-as-coach http://insidehockey.com/penguins-assemble-rutherford-led-gm-team-dismiss-bylsma-as-coach#comments Sat, 07 Jun 2014 16:00:26 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58885

The Pittsburgh Penguins concluded their three-week search to replace fired general manager Ray Shero Friday, and the news that started trickling out a few hours before the official announcement caught most observers off guard.

A few names had leaked throughout the search process, which saw the Penguins start with a list of 30 candidates, speak with 22 of them, bring nine to Pittsburgh for interviews and invite four back as finalists. Most visible among them was NBC television analyst Pierre McGuire, whose candidacy – and candor in radio interviews about it – was highly polarizing to the fan base.

The name of 65-year-old Jim Rutherford, former Carolina Hurricanes GM, was never mentioned publicly, and seemed a strange choice to lead the Penguins into the next chapter of their franchise history.

But the rest of the announcement made sense of the selection, as former assistant GM Jason Botterill, 38, was promoted to Associate GM, while player development coach Bill Guerin, 43, and former Shero assistant Tom Fitzgerald, 45, were promoted to Assistant GMs. Botterill, who served as interim GM since Shero’s departure, was a candidate for the position, while Fitzgerald is also believed to have interviewed.

In promoting Botterill, a salary-cap specialist who is widely regarded as a soon-to-be NHL general manager, the Penguins likely felt he wasn’t yet ready to assume the lead role but wanted to keep him in the organization with the probability of being Rutherford’s eventual successor.

“I feel we have two or three guys here that are very close to becoming general managers,” Rutherford said. “What I will do is give them big roles and a lot to say, and a lot of input in my final decisions. But, at the same time, I know that I’m mentoring them.

“I would suppose that this term for me is probably two or three years here, and it’s going to be up to the ownership as to who replaces me. But, certainly, I will get to know these guys better and I will recommend what goes on in the future. Especially Jason. He’s been here for a long time; he’s a very bright guy. He knows the game. I know that he’s getting very close.”

Rutherford specifically defined Guerin’s role as being hands-on with the players. “It wasn’t long ago since Billy was a player; he understands what makes these players tick and he’s going to be my day-to-day guy that really communicates with [them] and is around a lot more in the room to understand if we have an issue or if everything is going fine. Because, when there’s issues, I like to get on top of it and deal directly with it myself.”

As Rutherford mentors the next Penguins GM – a role he also performed in Carolina, where former Penguin Ron Francis recently assumed GM duties – he’ll work to restructure an organization he believes is close to getting back to winning.

“Five weeks ago, I decided to step down with the Hurricanes. I did both jobs [president and GM] and it really wore on me. And, when I stepped down … [I kept] an open mind that, if somebody called me, I would consider going somewhere if I felt I had a chance to win a championship.

“I have one Stanley Cup, I have two Eastern Conference trophies, but there’s no feeling, as everyone in here knows, like winning the ultimate prize. I believe we can do it here. And my job now is to come in and change some of those things that we need to strengthen in order to get to the end.”

Several of the things Rutherford cited as needing to change echoed what Penguins fans – and, more importantly, ownership – had likely been hoping to hear from their next GM: the team needs a head coach more capable of making adjustments, the organization needs to come up to speed on analytics, and the team would benefit from more vocal leadership.

Head coaching change

Upon his hiring, Rutherford immediately dismissed Dan Bylsma of his head coaching duties, in what seemed like a formality since Shero’s firing three weeks ago. Bylsma’s assistants – Jacques Martin, Todd Reirden, Tony Granato and goalie coach Mike Bales – were not dismissed but have been given permission to pursue other opportunities.

“I took the information from the people that were here; I didn’t have several meetings with Dan to get to know him and evaluate him or take his side of the story,” Rutherford said. “We agreed that making a change was the right thing to do.

“I have a short list of coaches in mind. The coach is going to have to adjust to the style of players we have because, with the talent level of the Penguins, the Penguins can play however we want – but, with the teams we have to compete with, we are going to have to make the proper adjustments during the game, the regular season or a playoff series.

“Obviously the Penguins can score, and score in bunches. But, looking at the Penguins – obviously from a distance, because that’s where I was – I don’t think they can make the proper adjustments against certain teams, and that will be a key factor in what I will be looking for in a head coach. And then the chemistry is going to be important. If the head coach is a certain way, we may need an X and O’s guy as a head coach and a motivator as an assistant coach, or vice versa. But we have to get a good mix of guys.”

Analytics

Rutherford said he would be adding a specialized analytics position to the organization within the next few weeks.

“I don’t think we’re up to speed here, and this is something I’ve gotten used to over the last few years. The analytics are very interesting if you do it properly. It’s not like baseball, [which] is an individual sport and you can either hit the ball or you can’t, or you can pitch the ball a certain way or you can’t. Hockey is a team sport. When you’re using those analytics, there are things that analytics are going to point out to you that your hockey people don’t see.

“So I take those points, whether it’s good or bad with a player, and then I go back and start questioning the hockey people – are we not seeing this? The analytics aren’t always right, and we’re not always right. It’s a great sounding board, really. Being a guy that’s been around as long as I have, some people are probably surprised that I use analytics. But I’ve used them for a few years now, and I can tell you that it really makes a difference.”

Grit and character

Asked specifically about the mandate from owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to improve the Penguins’ grit and character, Rutherford said his outsider’s perspective was that the team could use more vocal leadership – something he could consider addressing via trades or the upcoming free agency period, which he cautioned “may not be as exciting” this year as the Penguins are up against the salary cap, “but we’re still going to look to see if there’s ways to make some changes on the team.”

“I see the top-six guys as very talented players but, from a character point of view or leadership point of view … looking at it from the outside, I suspect we have good character in that room, but it’s quiet. It’s a quiet approach where you don’t have one or two guys that can stand up in the room and say, you know, this is what’s really going on. From a character point of view, I don’t think there’s an issue but, to have somebody or a couple of guys that are a little more vocal, I suspect that’s probably needed.”

Before free agency, however, Rutherford will turn his attention to preparing for the NHL Entry Draft, set for three weeks from his hire date, and hiring a head coach. Later Friday, in an interview with local radio station 93.7 The Fan, he said he plans to begin interviewing coaching candidates Monday, June 16, due to travel and GM meetings over the coming week.

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Photo Gallery: Ice Caps @ Penguins (5/31/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ice-caps-penguins-53114 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ice-caps-penguins-53114#comments Mon, 02 Jun 2014 16:58:18 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58843

Eastern Conference Finals Game #5 was held in Wilkes-Barre, PA on Saturday 05/31/14 between the St. John’s Ice Caps and WBS Penguins.  At the 19:44 mark of the 3rd period, WBS Penguins Zach Sill scored the winning to defeat the Ice Caps by a score of 4-2. The Ice Caps lead the series 3 to 5 games.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were WBS Spencer Machacek, #2 WBS Chuck Kobasew, and #1 WBS Zach Sill.  Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

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Photo Gallery: Ice Caps @ Penguins (05/29/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ice-caps-penguins-052914 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ice-caps-penguins-052914#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 16:59:08 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58822

  Game #4 of the Eastern Conference Finals between St. John’s Ice Caps and the WBS Penguins was held in Wilkes Barre, PA on 5/29/14.  At the 9:19 mark of the 3rd period STJ Josh Lunden scored the winning goal defeating WBS by a score of 2-1. The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 STJ Michael Hutchinson, #2 WBS Peter Mannino, and #1 STJ Josh Lunden. Photos were taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

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Photo Gallery: AHL Bruins @ Penguins (5/19/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-bruins-penguins-51914 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-bruins-penguins-51914#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 12:02:13 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58763

  Eastern Conference Semi-Final Game #6 in Wilkes-Barre, PA, Providence Bruins Alexander Khokhlachev had 2 goals and 1 assist to give the Bruins a 4 to 1 win over the WBS Penguins. Series is now going into Game #7 which will be in Providence.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 WBS Conor Sheary, #2 PRO Niklas Svedberg, #1 PRO Alexander Khokhlachev. Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

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Photo Gallery: AHL Penguins @ Bruins (5/17/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-penguins-bruins-51714 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-ahl-penguins-bruins-51714#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 20:04:05 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58745

AHL Calder Cup Semifinals Game 5: Providence Bruins vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center

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Photo Gallery: WBS Penguins @ Providence Bruins 05/17/14 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-wbs-penguins-providence-bruins-051714 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-wbs-penguins-providence-bruins-051714#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 01:23:04 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58748

  In Providence, Rhode Island during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between Providence Bruins and WBS Penguins.  In the 3rd period the Penguins Anton Zlobin scored the winning goal at the 14:20 mark giving the Penguins a 3-2 win.  Penguins lead the series 3 games to 2 games.  The “3 Stars of the Game” were #3 PRO Tyler Randell, #2 WBS Anton Zlobin, #1 WBS Peter Mannino.  Photos taken by Steve Rusyn for Inside Hockey.

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Penguins Come Up Short as Rangers Cap Historic Comeback http://insidehockey.com/penguins-come-up-short-as-rangers-cap-historic-comeback http://insidehockey.com/penguins-come-up-short-as-rangers-cap-historic-comeback#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 05:03:37 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58694

Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers accomplished something unprecedented in the 88-year history of their Original Six franchise, coming back all the way from a 1-3 series deficit to win in Game 7.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, did something that’s become all too familiar since their 2009 Stanley Cup championship, bowing out of the postseason for the fifth consecutive year to a lower-seeded team.

After getting off to slow starts and failing to eliminate the Rangers in Game 5 at home or Game 6 on the road, the Penguins came to play Tuesday. But, by taking the series to a one-game, winner-take-all Game 7, they put themselves in a situation where a bad bounce could end their season – or where a future Hall of Fame goaltender could do his best impersonation of a brick wall.

Henrik Lundqvist, to the surprise of absolutely no one, did just that.

The Rangers netminder was 4-0 in his last four Game 7 appearances, with an 0.75 goals-against average. Tuesday, he became the first goalie in NHL history to win five consecutive Game 7’s, stopping 35 of the 36 shots he faced in New York’s 2-1 win.

Over the Rangers’ remarkable three-game comeback, Lundqvist faced 105 shots and stopped 102 of them.

“I knew we probably weren’t going to score three or four in the third period but, certainly, one goal is not out of the realm,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen. “We threw a lot of rubber at him; we tried it the right way. We had guys diving and putting their faces into the crease, trying to will it into the net. It wouldn’t go. He was good. These tight playoff games, it comes down to those types of things – one little play, one little inch, one save.”

“It’s just disappointing,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “Tonight was one of our better games; we worked hard and generated some good chances but, unfortunately, didn’t find a way to win. Ultimately, the [last] two we lost hurt us a lot. We put ourselves in this position.”

As a team, New York also did an impressive job of collapsing around Lundqvist, keeping Pittsburgh mostly to the perimeter and limiting quality chances.

“They protected the net,” Crosby said. “They boxed out well in front, had guys sit back a lot, really protected their blue line and forced us to dump it. But, even with that, it’s the playoffs. You’ve got to find ways to generate.”

Rangers forward Brian Boyle got the first goal of the game past Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury just 5:25 in, continuing the trend of the team that scored first winning all seven contests. Penguins winger Jussi Jokinen – the team’s leading goal-scorer in the postseason – got his seventh early in the second to tie it. But, ironically, it was New York’s power play, which tied an NHL record earlier in the series by going 0-for-36, where Brad Richards cashed in a few minutes later with the eventual game-winner.

To a man, the Penguins pointed to Game 5 as the point where they started to lose their grip on the series.

“Certainly a disappointing effort on our end,” Niskanen said. “If you’re not going to win that game – it’s an opportunity to win and close out the series when you have all the momentum but, if you’re not, you’d better put a dent in their team at least. Make a statement with how you play, tire them out, do something. Game 5 was a really big missed opportunity, and then momentum starts to turn.”

“When you go up 3-1, [then] they played their best game in Game 5 … right here in our building,” said head coach Dan Bylsma. “Not being able to come up with the knockout punch there, you look at that as probably the biggest turning point in the series. You go back [to New York] for Game 6, they’re at home and win again to move the series on.”

Not even Crosby, a proven big-game player on some of hockey’s biggest stages, could come through in Game 7, ending a frustrating postseason in which he had nine points but only one goal through 13 games and frequently looked to be off his game, despite insisting that he was not battling an injury.

“Obviously, I would have liked to score more and contribute more, but it wasn’t a lack of effort or competing or anything like that,” Crosby said. “I’d love to tear it up every series but it’s not always the case. It doesn’t make it any easier, I’ll tell you that. It’s tough losing as it is but, when you’re not able to contribute as much as you’d like, it’s even tougher.”

After five consecutive seasons of underachieving expectations, the Penguins organization has big questions to answer this offseason – including whether Bylsma and his staff, general manager Ray Shero, and the players on the roster are the right men for their jobs.

“Our ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and we haven’t done that in five seasons,” Bylsma said. “Twenty minutes post battling for a Game 7 right to the bitter end, I haven’t contemplated the price it’s going to be or [thought about] anything toward the future yet.”

“You work all year to put yourself in a home-ice advantage to win a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we didn’t score at big moments in big games,” said forward James Neal, who managed only four points (2G, 2A) in 13 playoff games. “It falls on us. We just didn’t get it done; that’s the bottom line.”

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Rangers Force Game Seven http://insidehockey.com/rangers-force-game-seven http://insidehockey.com/rangers-force-game-seven#comments Tue, 13 May 2014 20:49:58 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58686

This is the story every sports writer loves to write: a story about the human side of the game that bonds an entire team and forces them to want to win. It’s the stuff that turns a sports movie into a tearfest. At least, for the Rangers this is perhaps the beginning of their story.

Last Thursday, New York Rangers’ Martin St. Louis unexpectedly lost his mother. His family decided that he should go on to play in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night because it was what his mother would have wanted him to do. The Rangers pulled together in what could have been their elimination game, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-1.

This win was for Marty.

St. Louis has been with the Rangers for only a couple of months now, but his personal loss was what brought this team together. The loss of a mother affects every single individual in that locker room.  Why?  Because they are human beings.  What if they were in his shoes? For those who have lost their mothers, they understood the emotional pain and grief of the loss. For those who have not suffered this kind of loss, they can only imagine and sympathize with the pain.

As the Rangers returned to New York to play Game 6 on Mother’s Day the fans rallied to let St. Louis know that they were beside him. They chanted “Mar-Ty” so loud it shook the roof of Madison Square Garden.

There was no goal celebrated louder on Sunday than the first goal of the night. At 3:34, St. Louis lit up New York with the first goal of the game. The impact this goal would have on Marty’s first Mother’s Day without his mother was the most important goal of the game. It was what brought the team to life.

After St. Louis scored this goal, he didn’t look up to his family sitting in the stands.

“I didn’t look up,” St. Louis said. “I’m trying to focus on the game. I looked up to them after the game. They deserve a lot of credit for where I’ve been, where I’ve gone today. I couldn’t be happier for them to be here on a special day.”

“I think the boys were happy for me, no doubt,” he said of the team when he scored his goal. “We just kept going through the first period. We were playing with a lot of emotion. Things were going good. We knew they were going to get their push. I thought we did pretty well. Obviously, we got a big third goal there in the second.”

“I think we played a great game,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “We set the tone right away. Marty scored that goal…it was such a beautiful moment. I got really emotional to watch that. To see him and what he’s been through, I think the entire team was feeding from that moment…and the entire building. It was such a great energy in here.

“I’ve got no idea what he’s gone through these last few days,” Marc Staal said of St. Louis. “But I’m assuming that felt great for him and his family, his mom. [It was] absolutely a huge boost for the bench. It was a great start to the game.”

A few minutes after St. Louis’ goal, Carl Hagelin backhanded the puck in for the Rangers second goal at 6:25. The Penguins got a lucky break at 16:56 when Brandon Sutter’s shot was blocked by Lundqvist. The puck then bounced off of Rangers’ defenseman Kevin Klein and into the net, giving Pittsburgh their lone goal of the game.

In the second period, Derick Brassard gave the Rangers their third goal of the game at 15:30, tallying his fourth goal in the post-season.

“It’s up to us to give [the fans] something to be happy about and we did right away,” Lundqvist said. “We played a really strong game. At critical moments, we made some great plays. It’s a fun, exciting feeling. Obviously, when you play at home, you must win. As a team, we go out and play that well together, it’s a great feeling.”

Although this game was a promising game for the Rangers, edging them further along in their comeback from a 3-1 series, it also produced a lot of nastiness coming from the side of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Lundqvist was fined $5,000 for squirting Sidney Crosby with his water bottle.

Click here to view the embedded video.

What you see in the video above is Sidney Crosby with his hockey stick between the legs of Rangers Dominic Moore followed by a spear into the crotch. During the altercation between both teams, Crosby goes down and then Lundqvist skates by squirting him with his water bottle. That move cost Lundqvist $5,000.

What did Crosby get? Two minutes in the penalty box for cross-checking.

But that’s not all Crosby did. He came up behind Rangers Dan Girardi with a slew foot. He wasn’t called for “tripping” there.

This is not the first time Crosby has speared an opponent in the groin. It is not the first time he was caught with an apparent slew foot move. The reason why he keeps on doing it is because he gets away with it. When the opposing team tries to go after him, the referees protect him. When the league should stop these dirty plays from reoccurring, they go silent…which means it is perfectly acceptable to spear a player in the groin, and slew foot a member of the opposing team…just so long as your name is Sidney Crosby.

Yet, Lundqvist tries to get retribution for his teammate and is fined $5,000 for getting Crosby a little wet. While Crosby, who attempted to hurt and injure another player by going for a low-ball move (no pun intended), gets away scot-free.

There are more and more incidents like this happening across the league. If this is acceptable hockey, parents need to avert their children’s eyes.

As for the Game 6 victory, St. Louis decided to award the Broadway Hat to the team for their outstanding effort.

Click here to view the embedded video.

“I think as a team, the last couple of games, we’ve come together here and realized what we need to do to have success against this team. They’re so skilled that if you give them something, then they’re going to try and take it. You just have to respect that. At the same time, we have to believe in what we’re doing. The last two games, I think our mindset has been really good.”

Game 7 is on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

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