It has been a wild and intense week in the wonderful world of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey.
Heading into Monday’s Game 5 meeting with the New York Islanders, the series is tied at two games apiece and, as far as I’m concerned, all indications point towards this first-round series going the full seven games. On Sunday night, the Boston Bruins ended the Washington Capitals’ season with a 3-1 win and advanced to the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the B’s will await the winner of the Penguins and Islanders. The early advancement could be a disadvantage for either team in the next round as the Bruins will now have plenty of time to rest and heal up.
Nonetheless, the Penguins still need to buckle down and take care of business with the Islanders even to have the opportunity to face the rested Bruins. To do so, they will most likely need to continue to see stellar play from two important players.
Let’s put aside the obviously consistent and reliable play of Sidney Crosby, just for a moment, and talk about who has been the Penguins’ best offensive player — Jeff Carter.
In 14 regular-season games with the Penguins, Carter put up nine goals and 11 points. He carried that momentum into the playoffs with three goals and an assist in the four games against the Islanders, including the eventual game-winner in Game 2.
In what has turned out as possibly Ron Hextall’s greatest acquisition as a general manager and the best for the Penguins in years, Carter has been the experience boost Pittsburgh needed with more than a touch of high-end offensive ability.
When Evgeni Malkin was missing time with an injury, Carter was flourishing as the second-line center between Jared McCann and Kasperi Kapanen. However, with Malkin in the lineup, Carter has retained his linemate in McCann but has another hungry player to his right in Freddy Gaudreau.
I think just his experience and his ability to make plays under pressure — there’s no panic in his game in any aspect, regardless of what the score is. Just his demeanor, he’s a guy that’s such an accomplished player. Our players have the utmost respect for what he’s been able to accomplish in the game to this point. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion. He’s been there.Penguins coach Mike Sullivan via NHL.com
The Penguins will undoubtedly look for that line, and Carter himself, to continue their play and lift the team into the second round.
Captain Playing Championship Hockey
Okay, we avoided talking about Crosby for a moment, but with the way the 16-year veteran has been playing early on in the playoffs, there is no way we could avoid it for too long. Crosby only has one goal to his credit, an amazing one-handed deflection, in the four games against the Islanders, but it’s been his plays that don’t show up on the scoresheet that have truly wowed.
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In the first period of Tuesday’s Game 2 win, Crosby saved a goal with his incredible hand-eye coordination by reaching out his stick to save a shot by Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
If that wasn’t enough, Crosby made an even more impressive defensive effort during the Penguins’ wild win in Game 3. With the Penguins leading 5-4 and about three minutes to play in the third period, New York’s Brock Nelson thought he stumbled upon a juicy rebound headed for the back of the net to tie things up. However, Crosby lunged back and stuck out his stick just in time to deny Nelson.
That, right there, is a championship effort. The team which hoists the Cup when it’s all said and done is usually the same team that goes that extra mile night in and night out while showcasing players like Crosby, who give it everything they have.
The Penguins will look to take a series lead over the Islanders when they square off Monday at 7 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.