Jim Rutherford has watched his Pittsburgh Penguins advance to the Eastern Conference Final. The headlines were bold after the Penguins knocked off the Washington Capitals 4-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. There would be no redemption for Alexander Ovechkin yet again.
The 2016 edition of the Penguins looks to be hitting on all cylinders, and would not be a bad pick to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.
It was 10 years ago that Pens general manager Rutherford had another team in a similar spot. The Carolina Hurricanes were pitted against the Buffalo Sabres in that year’s Eastern Conference Final. The ‘Canes defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-1 in that year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. They would go on to beat the Sabres, 4-3, in a hard-fought series, and defeat the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, 4-3. The Hall of Fame radio voice of the ‘Canes, Chuck Kaiton had the call:
Jim Rutherford had done what few had thought possible in taking the relatively new franchise in Raleigh, North Carolina to the pinnacle of the NHL. Kaiton said it best, “They have risen from the hockey morgue.” Kaiton noted that 9,393 days of frustration were over.
That was then
Rutherford is poised to possibly see future repeat itself in the form of his Penguins. Although they are down 0-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, this year’s Pens team is loaded offensively, and their rookie goalie Matt Murray is playing like a veteran.
The ‘Canes in ’06 rode their own rookie goaltender, Cam Ward, to the top of the mountain, and the Pens could very well ride theirs to hockey’s ultimate destination, also.
Murray has played exceptionally well in place of Marc-Andre Fleury, who has recovered from his March concussion and is ready to play if needed. Frankly, I thought Fleury would get that chance after the Lightning’s third goal against Murray in Game 1, but Pens coach Mike Sullivan left him in the game, and has Murray slated to start in Monday night’s Game 2. Sullivan was quoted at NHL.com as saying,
“He has a maturity level beyond his years and responds to adversity really well.”
If the Bolts get a lead in Game 2, however, it will be interesting to see how long Sullivan leaves him in with their season’s starter, Fleury on the bench. There was some fan sentiment during Game 1 that wanted to see Fleury back in-goal:
Hate to be this way but time to pull Matt Murray and put Fleury back in
— Jordan Drake (@JTDrake23) May 14, 2016
Rutherford Loving Life
Rutherford has to be loving life right now. He has one Stanley Cup to his credit, and has the firepower offensively to go the distance once again. Names like Crosby, Kessel and Letang are just a small piece of the Penguins’ pie. Top to bottom, Rutherford has every spot filled with solid players that can score and defend with any team in the NHL, and have shown that they can go off at any time. With a hot young Murray, and the veteran Fleury in the wings, on paper at least the goalie position is more than adequately filled.
Life is good for the Pens’ general manager, with only a few games standing in his way of another Stanley Cup and a likely spot in the Hall of Fame. Of course, the Lightning has other plans for Rutherford, as will whoever the Western Conference representative will be in the Stanley Cup Final. But, I wouldn’t bet against the Penguins at this point, or Rutherford. His team is loaded, and unless they completely fall apart, his chances of winning it all again look pretty good.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.