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May 31, 2016
by Bill West


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SCF Game 1 GIF-cap

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Selfless coworker Jonathan Bombulie was nice enough to transcribe a bunch of quotes for me last night, so the GIF recap of the Penguins’ 3-2 win over San Jose in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final will simply pair images with some of the best remarks from the victors.

Coach Mike Sullivan on Sidney Crosby: “You could see his hunger to win. He’s inspiring. I thought he was a force out there all night. He’s so strong on the puck. His speed through the neutral zone. He’s a threat. Every time he jumps over the boards, we feel he’s a threat to score or a threat to put pressure on our opponent’s defense. You can see he has that twinkle in his eye, I think. He knows we’ve played extremely hard to get to this point. When he plays this way, I think he inspires the whole group.”

And this one…

Sullivan on the Patrick Marleau head shot that knocked Bryan Rust out of the game in the third period: “He’s day to day with an upper-body injury. It’s a blind-side hit to the head. He gets a penalty. I’m sure the league will look at it.” On Tuesday, Sullivan did not have an update on Rust’s status. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety did not discipline Marleau for the hit.

Sullivan on Nick Bonino, who scored the game-winner with 2:33 left: “He’s a real calm, cool and collected guy. I don’t think his heart rate gets too high. He just goes about his job. He’s great with his linemates. He’s grest with our young players. He’s a reassuring presence, both in the locker room and on the bench.”

Chris Kunitz on Bonino as a guy who scores big goals: “Bones may not be known for a goal scorer, but he’s got a heavy stick. He can find pucks. He’s really slippery. He does all the things right and found himself in the right position and capitalized on it.”

 Matt Murray on San Jose’s second goal, which Marleau scored on a wraparound after collecting a rebound from a Brent Burns shot: “We knew they were good at getting pucks to the net from the point and shooting off the pass from the point and getting sticks on the puck. That’s how they got their second goal. It was just a point shot with a rebound. Nothing crazy. Nothing we didn’t expect.”

Phil Kessel’s observation of the day: “It was a tight game. Obviously they’re a good team. It was a battle out there and we found a way.”

 

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May 31, 2016
by Bill West


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Stanley Cup Game 1 Data Dump

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Here’s the first installment of what I hope/plan to do for every game in the Stanley Cup Final. I won’t waste your time with many words. Just Fancy Stat charts and brief thoughts on said charts, for people who like that sort of thing.

Penguins are the alpha predators in 5v5: When a team leads, 2-0, after the first period, it tends to complicate how to assess the rest of the game. The Sharks certainly answered the Penguins’ strong first period with an impressive second. But the score-adjusted 5v5 numbers came out decidedly in favor of the Penguins. Only the Sharks’ shot attempts ended up close, but as the scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances indicate, they rarely got the puck into the slot and/or near the front of the net. (Chart from War-on-Ice).

Pens Sharks WO1 event data

Marching up Data Mountain: The Sharks’ power play struck tonight, and it likely will continue to strike fear into the hearts of the Penguins fans for the rest of the series (as it should). But three power plays for San Jose only did so much to improve its chances of matching the outpouring of offense delivered by the Penguins in the first and third periods. Below I’ve included  all-situations score-adjusted shot attempts and scoring chances from www.hockeystats.ca and an all-situations xG graphic from www.corsica.hockey.

Pens Sharks Gm 1 final Corsi Pens Sharks Gm 1 final chancesCorsica xG Game 1

Depth charge: One Penguins-related topic discussed and pondered throughout the playoffs has been forward depth. Can any team answer the Penguins’ four-line approach? San Jose’s first attempt did not go so well. The Sharks’ stars performed well in 5v5 play. But their bottom-six forwards and third defensive pair brought very little to the table. The Penguins, meanwhile, thrived with Nick Bonino and Sidney Crosby’s lines driving possession up front and a surprisingly productive Justin Schultz chipping in on the blue line. (Corsi differential chart from www.hockeystats.ca and matchup chart from War-on-Ice.com).

Pens Gm 1 poss final Pens Sharks Gm 1 h2h

 

 

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May 30, 2016
by Bill West


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Stanley Cup predictions and projections

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There are a lot of smart people with opinions about the Stanley Cup Final and how it might play out. Some rely purely on their eyes and instincts, and maybe even their NHL playing experience. Others are inclined to trust not only what they witness and remember, but also that which they miss and need to revisit with help from both traditional and advanced statistics (a fancy word for a record of events in a hockey game)

In the age of abundant information, it’s always interesting to see the difference, if any, between those who make predictions or projections based on anecdotal evidence or data-driven analysis or some blend of the two.

Vegas, or at least sports book Bovada.com, lists the Penguins as a favorite at 4/5, while the Sharks’ odds are 21/20. The sports book also listed San Jose’s Joe Pavelski at the Conn Smythe frontrunner at 5/2, followed by Phil Kessel at 11/2. Sidney Crosby (6/1) and Matt Murray (6/1) are the next closest candidates among the Penguins.

Many from the NHL.com editorial staff chimed in with their predictions in a story found here: https://www.nhl.com/news/stanley-cup-final-expert-picks/c-280834534?tid=280204614.

To see 17 of 21 chose the Sharks shocked me a bit. But maybe I’m a little too close to the topic to see the big picture. So I decided to see what a swath of online writers with number-driven projection models concluded about the Cup’s potential outcome. Shoutout to Twitter’s @omgitsdomi, who has been tracking several of the web’s most prominent data wizards and their playoff projections.

The outcome percentages are in the right two columns. The left-most column of numbers indicates who has been most accurate with their projection model to this point in the playoffs.

Pretty interesting, eh? While media types are largely siding with San Jose, Twitter’s most hockey-crazed proponents of math-driven analysis have models that prefer the Penguins at the start of the series.

As for me? Well, I’d think most readers of my coverage would know how I draw conclusions by now. So feel free to draw your conclusions from that.

 

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May 28, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Quotes, Sharks and the Missing Link

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Some odds and ends from today’s practice in Cranberry.

Bryan Rust on his newfound celebrity: “Definitely more people are noticing me, that’s for sure. It’s obviously a really great feeling, but I think the feeling of going to the Stanley Cup Final trumps it.”

Phil Kessel’s scouting report on the Sharks is awesome because it could literally be used before every playoff series beyond the first round in the history of hockey: “Obviously they’ve played unbelievable hockey down the stretch and in the playoffs. They’re a great team. They’ve got a lot of great players. It’s going to be tough. Real tough.”

— When people talk about why Kessel is so good in the playoffs, they usually talk about his calm demeanor. I’m guilty of doing that too. Sidney Crosby, however, has a better reason for why Kessel seems to be a strong postseason performer: “With his shot, especially the way the playoffs are, everything’s so tight, there’s not a lot of time and space, it works out pretty good for him with that release he has and how dangerous he is.”

— Having talked to Crosby a bunch this season, I feel like this quote really summarizes how he feels about this series. In most cases, he thinks games aren’t decided by any of the noise that sports writers spend a lot of time talking about: “We’ll see who executes and who’s at their best here in the final round.”

Now, how about a list of 10 players you didn’t know played for the San Jose Sharks:

— Colby Armstrong’s little brother Riley Armstrong played two games in 08-09.

— In between much more memorable stints with Chicago and Dallas, Ed Belfour worked in 13 games with the Sharks in 96-97.

Brad Boyes went on to be a 40-goal scorer, but his first NHL game was a one-game call-up from the Cleveland Barons to the Sharks in 03-04.

Dave Brown is one of the toughest men to ever play in the NHL. You probably remember him with the Flyers. He played 37 games with San Jose in 95-96.

— Everyone remembers the Penguins getting Bill Guerin from the Islanders at the trade deadline in 2009. Fewer remember the Sharks picking him up from the Blues at the deadline in 2007.

— Famous for his skullet and huge slap shot, Al Iafrate played 59 games for San Jose in 96-98.

— Former Penguins defenseman Jim Kyte, the hearing impaired heavyweight, played 75 games for the Sharks from 94-96.

Claude Lemieux finished up his career with 18 games for the Sharks in 08-09.

— Before he became Jaromir Jagr’s buddy with the Penguins, Kip Miller played 11 games for the Sharks in 93-94.

— If you’re like me, you know Chris Terreri as Martin Brodeur’s backup. He also went 19-39-4 with the Sharks from 95-97.

Finally, former Sharks winger Link Gaetz is one of the most maniacal enforcers in NHL history. Watch a highlight video of his exploits. Some Joey Kocur and Bob Probert in there. Good times.

 

Bye for now,

jb

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May 27, 2016
by Bill West


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ECF Game 7 GIF-cap

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It’s pretty late, so I’m going to slack off and just deliver the GIFs. Enjoy!

Meet two of the smarter coaches in the NHL. It was a pleasure to watch them over the course of seven games.

Bryan Rust is not a shy rookie.

I’m sure there are haters somewhere who took issue with something Sidney Crosby did tonight. Penguins Twitter comes prepared for such instances.

Ian Cole has no chill. But I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the anything-goes NHL.

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May 27, 2016
by Bill West


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Game 7 as Sullivan saw it

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Even Penguins coach Mike Sullivan found the emergence of Bryan Rust as the hero of Game 7 remarkable if not downright absurd.

But Sullivan warned Penguins fans well before Friday’s 2-1 win over Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals that this team went so much deeper than its stars. And he opened his post-game press conference with that reality in mind.

“I can’t even explain to you how excited I am for the group we have and how proud I am of them for how hard we play for each other,” Sullivan said. “You know, I’ve been in the game a long time, and you don’t always get associated with a group that has the chemistry this group has, and when you do, it’s something special. I believe that we have evolved into a team in the true sense of the word, and I thought tonight it was on display.”

About that two-goal night from Rust, though…

“I’m not sure Rusty would have been the guy I would have picked, but certainly I love what he brings to this team and couldn’t be happier for him for his effort and his contribution as far as how he’s helped this team win for four or five months now,” Sullivan said. “To see him get rewarded with a couple of goals is a thrill for all of us because he’s such a great kid and he plays so hard.

“So for me, once again, I know there’s a lot of stories that surround this group, but the greatest story of all is the group itself. And for me, when you’re part of something that’s bigger than yourself, it’s a special feeling, and I know these guys have it right now.”

What did that full-team effort look like as a graphic? Just take a look.

Pens Bolts Gm 7 final Corsi Pens Bolts Gm 7 scoring chances

The line of Sidney Crosby, Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist led the way from a puck possession perspective. But all four of the Penguins’ lines found opportunities to wreak havoc on Tampa Bay with forechecking, a central ingredient in Sullivan’s Right Way to Play recipe.

Sheary tried to identify all that goes into the “right way.”

“I think it’s all the little things,” Sheary said. “I think when you’re in the O-zone, you have to reload. You have to backcheck. You can’t just take a step off and let them get on the rush. And then you have to be defensive-minded, even as an offensive player. You have to commit to defense. Those little things that some people might not notice are the little things that I think he means by playing the right way.”

Of course, Sheary, Rust and the others heard about “the right way” and the team concepts well before Sullivan took over the Penguins in December.

For Sullivan, the opportunity to still discuss the former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton guys in late May clearly ranks among his playoff highlights.

“Well, those guys were huge,” Sullivan said. “I told our players after the game that one of the things I really loved about this game was it took every single man in the lineup to win, and everybody made a significant contribution to helping us win, regardless of how many minutes they played. Guys made key plays at key times, subtle plays — plays on the wall, blocked shots, won face-offs, decisions with the puck, a good save, a big hit. There was a lot of those subtle plays throughout the course of the game that, I think, makes us the team that we are.

“And I couldn’t be happier for this group of players. I think that the young kids are bringing the energy and enthusiasm. The veteran guys, I think, have been great mentors for these kids, and I think that’s why we have the dynamic we have.”

“I also told them that we’re not finished yet. We’ve got to reenergize and be ready for the next round here. That’s the most important one of all.”

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May 26, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 7 Tampa Bay pregame

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The beauty of a Game 7 is its randomness.

Just ask Max Talbot.

A cottage industry has sprung up analyzing hockey stats and trends, and a lot of those concepts have been discussed here at length over the course of the season. But the usefulness of statistical analysis dwindles dramatically when the sample size is small.

And no sample size is smaller than one game.

And that makes Game 7 so wonderfully random.

Unlikely heroes emerge in Game 7, they say, and that’s undoubtedly true. No one will forget Talbot’s pair of goals in Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.

But unlikely heroes also emerge in Game 3. Or Game 37 of the regular season. We just don’t remember those. Talbot scored two goals five other times in his NHL career, including once in a playoff game in 2012, but nobody remembers them.

Scoring one goal in one game is an objective pretty much every player in the NHL is capable of reaching. It’s just that when the one game is a Game 7, it lives in history forever.

Some notes on Game 7 trends:

— The hockey playoff adage I’ve always believed a little bit is the one that says if you win 6, you win 7.

In Penguins history, it’s remarkably true.

The Penguins have played 14 seven-game series in their history. The winner of Game 6 has won Game 7 in 13 of those series. The lone exception was against Washington in 2009, when the Penguins lost 6 but won 7.

— Home-ice advantage isn’t nearly as important as who wins Game 6. Home teams, all-time in the NHL, are 96-69 in Game 7 (.589 winning percentage). They’re 2-2 this year.

— First goal is pretty important. In NHL history, teams that score first in Game 7 are 123-42 (.745). In the regular season, teams that score first usually win about two-thirds of the time, so it’s a somewhat statistically significant difference. This year, teams scoring first in Game 7 are 4-0.

“First goal is important any time you’re playing, especially against a team like Tampa that has a pretty good neutral zone, a pretty good defensive shell if they get a lead,” Eric Fehr said. “The neutral zone can be pretty important and getting the first goal is a big part of that. You want to score first. You want to score first at home. Goals are tough to come by, especially in a Game 7, so scoring first always helps.”

Fehr, it should be noted, isn’t terribly concerned with these Game 7 stats as a whole.

“I don’t pay attention to any of those stats because at the end of the day, it’s a different game,” he said. “It’s a new game every time. Anything can happen in a Game 7.”

And Game 3. And Game 37 of the regular season.

Some quotes from the locker room after morning skate:

Ben Lovejoy: “This is a team that doesn’t need 40 shots to score three or four goals. Tampa can beat you as soon as they get one opportunity. They don’t need a lot of shots. We want to be focused and ready from the get-go.”

Patric Hornqvist, on whether the Penguins will have the same game plan as Game 6: “Only change is there’s going to be a handshake after the game. That’s probably the only difference.”

Hornqvist on the mood of the room: “Exactly the same thing. I think we’re calm, we’re focused, we’re confident. Just go out there and have fun and take advantage of this opportunity we have here in front of us.”

Fehr on following the lead of star players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, et al: “We expect those guys to lead the charge. Obviously everybody’s there to back them up. We’re going to do our best to support them. But those guys have been there for us all year. We expect the same.”

Matt Cullen: “The game happens fast, and that’s why it’s so important that you can’t afford to sit back and watch and see what happens. You’ve got to get out there and try to dictate the play and try to take it to the other team. If you can start first and start fast, you give yourself a good advantage.”

Ian Cole: “I think in any game situation, you try to visualize certain plays. Do I for the next nine hours constantly replay the game and what’s going to happen? No. I think that might do more detriment than good. I think it’s something where you do want to be aware of the situation, but you can’t let it control your game. What it comes down to is it’s just going to be another game. You really have to go out and not let the situation get the better of you. I don’t think you can change the way you’re playing based on the fact that it is a Game 7.”

Mike Sullivan: “These are the types of games that you grow up, I think, dreaming to play in, to be a part of. This is why we train so hard all season long. We bring that all to bear tonight.”

Sullivan on his pregame speech: “I think a lot in these moments, it comes from the heart. I’m not sure at this point that a whole lot needs to be said. I think a whole lot has been said. For us, it’s about embracing the moment and owning your own game and bringing everything to the table that you can to help the team win. It’s such a great feeling to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, and these are the type of circumstances that epitomize that.”

More after the game. Bye for now,

jb

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May 25, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Rest as a Weapon

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The Penguins have had a good bit of success in recent days using rest as a weapon.

Olli Maatta sat out three games after a string of poor play. Since returning, he has three assists and is a plus-3 in two games.

Conor Sheary sat out a game after struggling badly in the middle of the Lightning series. He set up Kris Letang’s goal in Game 6.

Matt Murray famously sat in favor of Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5, then returned to the lineup and performed well in Game 6.

In the playoffs, when legs are weary, perhaps a day off can make a world of difference.

Sullivan said as much Wednesday when further explaining his goaltending decisions over the past two games.

“I think you guys always insinuate that, when someone doesn’t play, they get benched. That wasn’t the case at all. So sometimes I think you guys put words into our mouth that really is not our intention as the coaching staff. Matt played a lot of hockey. He played a lot of games. This is a battle you’re playing every other night. If it was the regular season, we probably wouldn’t play our starting goalie that many games in a row. As a young goaltender, sometimes that’s a tough load to carry. So we felt as though it was the right time for Marc, to give him an opportunity to get back in the game and try to win us a hockey game, and we were going to take it game by game, and we explained that to Matt, and we explained that to Marc.”

Some other highlights from the Penguins’ media availability this morning in Tampa:

— Sullivan on what he expects from Sidney Crosby in Game 7: ” We just — we expect him to be himself. And when he does that, he’s a great player. He helps us win. And that’s what he did last night. We don’t expect any one of our players to carry the load for this team. This team has had success because it’s been a team and everyone participates and contributes to helping us win. That’s the message to our players is let’s just play the game the right way and be yourself, play to your strengths, and that’s what we expect all of our players to do.”

— Sullivan, on what he plans to say before Game 7: “I don’t know that a lot needs to be said. I think the players understand the situation. It’s no different than what we just played last night. It’s for us, and this will be our message to them again. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great opportunity to play at this time of year, to put a stamp on these playoffs, to establish ourselves as a group, and we have to look at it in those terms. We’ve got to embrace the challenge, embrace the moment. Everybody’s got to go out there and play hard, and most importantly, play hard for each other. This group has been through a lot this year, and as I said all along here, I think we’ve got a nice chemistry in our room, which is great to see, and I know these guys are going to play hard for one another.”

— Sidney Crosby, on the momentum the Penguins might have from winning Game 6: “Yeah, I think everything is out the window. I think Game 7, the desperation level of both teams is going to be there. You expect that. It just comes down to executing and who’s going to do a better job.”

 

— Crosby, on his three game-winning goals in this series: “Well, you want to produce, especially this time of year. You want to contribute. But I think we have a lot of belief, a lot of trust in everybody. But it’s worked out that way. Yeah, I think that we just really believe in one another and believe that someone will step up to get that big play, whether it’s a goal or a blocked shot, anything. That’s what you need.”

— Carl Hagelin, who played with the Rangers last season when they lost to Tampa in Game 7 in the conference finals: “I think that game we didn’t play good at all. It was one of those games where we had nothing. This is a different team. This is a team that really believes in one another and believes that we can score a goal and be a threat offensively when we do the right things. At the same time, we can shut things down.”

— Hagelin, on his Game 7 philosophy: “This is not the time to play scared. I think, when we’re being aggressive, playing in the offensive zone, that’s when we’re at our best. Our team knows that. We know that we have to push the pace.”

Bye for now,

jb

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May 25, 2016
by Bill West


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ECF Game 6 GIF-cap

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These last few games between the Penguins and Lightning have provided almost too many moments to sufficiently cover with a GIF recap. But here’s a modest effort on my part to revisit the highs and lows of Tuesday’s 5-2 win at Amalie Arena, which tied the series at 3.

Kessel’s crazy hand-eye coordination: Phil thrills in many ways. His best trick in Tuesday’s win? Redirecting airborne pucks with his stick anytime he got the chance. Once it worked out in the Penguins’ favor. Once it blew up in their face.

Angry Geno: The Penguins stayed out of the penalty box in Game 6, an important development for them after they took some ill-advised liberties and got caught in Game 4 and 5. Evgeni Malkin served the team’s only minor on Tuesday, and while it was an unwise act (mostly because he got caught), he probably still found some satisfaction in it.

Dangles for days: Sidney Crosby decided he needed a new highlight goal, seeing as his Game 2 overtime winner has gone stale. So he swerved his way through Tampa Bay’s top defensive pair.

Boiling blood and Boyle: No clear villain existed among the Lightning at the beginning of this series — certainly no one of the Alex Ovechkin or Marc Staal persuasion. But Brian Boyle has done a fine job of filling the void. He antagonized Crosby in Game 1. He got in Kris Letang’s head in Game 4. And he provided all kinds of fodder for Penguins fans to stew over in Game 6 by scoring both of Tampa Bay’s goals and celebrating in style.

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May 25, 2016
by Jonathan Bombulie


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Game 6 Tampa Bay postgame

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When analyzing the numbers from the first six games of the Eastern Conference finals, colleague Bill West came to a conclusion.

For the Penguins to win, just having an edge in possession hasn’t been enough.

If the Penguins only out-possess Tampa Bay slightly, a quick, skilled opportunistic Lightning attack will probably make them pay.

The Penguins have really had success in this series when they out-possess the Lightning by a large margin, like they did in the first two periods tonight. At the start of the third period, they held a 26-11 edge in shots and a 40-20 advantage in shot attempts.

That’s what the picture has to look like for the Penguins to have success.

There are two other factors that helped the Penguins out tonight, too. Factors that hadn’t necessarily been present in the first five games.

They got a couple breaks and they got clutch goaltending in the third period.

At the 5:12 mark of the first period, Tampa Bay had a goal waved off when replays showed Jonathan Drouin was offside by inches. His front foot was over the blue line by a narrow margin and his back foot was up in the air when the puck entered the zone.

It was the right call, but it was so close it could have gone the other way. That counts as a break in my book.

Later in the period, Evgeni Malkin took a retaliation slashing penalty in the offensive zone. Tampa didn’t score on the power play. That’s a break.

With 3:06 left in the first period, Matt Murray cleared a puck that hit the very top of the glass, thus avoiding a delay of game call. A minute later, Victor Hedman cleared a puck from the middle of his own zone that cleared the glass in the offensive zone 150 feet away. That’s a break.

The Penguins capitalized on that one with a five-on-three goal.

Tampa put together another third-period rally, threatening to erase a Penguins lead for the second straight game.

Murray made 17 of his 28 saves in the period. Brian Boyle scored twice to make it 3-2, but the Lightning never found the equalizer.

So to sum up, the Penguins got dominant possession, a couple of breaks and clutch goaltending. That’s a formula that almost always works.

Now some postgame quotes:

“I think my breakaway percentage is now 1 for 10, 10 percent. I’ll still rely more on my energy game.” — Bryan Rust, on his important breakaway insurance goal with 2:08 to play.

“You see in the third period, when we sit back, they play with that speed, they play with that power and puck possession that really puts us back on our heels. When we do it to them, for the first 40 minutes, they didn’t have a lot of quality chances and the ones they did have, our goaltender stopped.” — Chris Kunitz, on Tampa’s third-period rally

“I just told them to embrace the moment. It’s a great opportunity for us. These are the types of circumstances where you have an opportunity to write your own story, and that’s what we wanted to
do.” — Mike Sullivan on his pregame address to the team

“I think it was a huge moment in the game. (Video coordinator Andy Saucier) saw it. He radioed it to (assistant coach Rick Tocchet) and it was close, but he felt as though it was offside, and it was close enough that we certainly wanted to challenge it. It was a great call by him. It was certainly, I think, a
big part of the game. If they get the first goal, it lights up the building, and all of a sudden, momentum gets difficult. So I thought it was a great call by Sauce, and certainly, I think, our team actually got a
boost from it because we knew we had dodged a bullet there.” — Sullivan on Drouin’s waved-off goal

“Yeah, I mean, that’s out of my control, I think. So that’s 100 percent of the coach’s decision, and he’s going to make the decision he thinks is going to give us the best chance to win. It’s not my job to worry about his decision. It’s my job to be ready if my name is called, and if my name is called, to go out and play my heart out and compete. So, yeah, I’m not really worried about that too much.” — Matt Murray on being benched for Game 5 and returning to win Game 6

Bye for now,

jb

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