Kennedy symbolic of Pens; my Hart Trophy ballot; and Game 5 links.


If, as I’ve believed since their first players’ organized workout during the NHL lockout, these Penguins are on a Redemption Song quest – as a whole, for the Stanley Cup; individually, for their previous reputations as big-game players – then it was only fitting that Tyler Kennedy played a pivotal role in their pivotal playoff game so far.

Kennedy, never a star, has been a part of this nucleus that reached those Cup Final heights what seems like so long ago.

He was a regular on the 2008 and 2009 Final clubs, and a big reason the Penguins won that latter year.  In the 2009 Final, captain Sidney Crosby was tasked with skating Detroit’s top line into exhaustion, and Evgeni Malkin essentially became the player the Red Wings’ had to prevent from taking over that series.

It was subtle genius from coach Dan Bylsma to have Crosby essentially become the ultimate decoy, because with Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom so focused on Crosby and his line, the series became about depth – and the Penguins had it all over the Red Wings in that one category.

Bylsma knew then that the Red Wings could not match his third line, and that played out as the series dragged on. Malkin had his moments. His Game 3 that series was among his all-time best, and even in Game 6 the Red Wings were unable to prevent him from dictating in the offensive zone.

The Penguins’ third line, though, was off the charts – especially in Games 4 and 6, the crucial ones they needed to win to pull even with Detroit.

Detroit was overwhelmed by the Matt Cooke-Jordan Staal-Tyler Kennedy line, which lived up to its “Nightmare Line” moniker. The Red Wings were punished physically and mentally by Cooke, worked over by Staal and flat out-skated by Kennedy, who scored goals in Games 4 and 6.

The Penguins won the Cup, and two years later, when Crosby and Malkin were hurt and Kennedy took a top-six role and turned it into a 20-goal season, it appeared he was ready to become a bigger player for this franchise.

It hasn’t worked out that way for him since, though – and Kennedy, for the first time, began this postseason as a healthy scratch.

But, oh, was he working hard in practice these past few weeks.

There were drills, especially in a session Monday between Games 3 and 4, when Kennedy was hunting pucks, winning races, and firing hard, high shots at look-at-that speed. Once these were hallmarks of his game, but those elements had disappeared as his confidence waned this season.

Kennedy looked Monday like the player he once was, somebody ready to provide a spark, some energy, and maybe a big goal.

Then, on Thursday, this:

= The Hart Trophy finalists are announced Friday, and expect Crosby to be one of them.

A record number of writers voted on the NHL Awards this season. The Hart is probably the crown jewel of the Awards we determine. The Pittsburgh chapter had six votes for the Awards. Here is my Hart ballot:

HART TROPHY (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”) — Five selections.

  1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
  2. Patrick Kane, Chicago
  3. JohnTavares, NY Islanders
  4. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
  5. Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit

= Josh Yohe on the coolness of Tomas Vokoun in Game 5:

I ran into Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury at Consol Energy Center way after the Penguins’ victory. Fleury and he chatted for a while, along with Pascal Dupuis. The was no disharmony there at all. In fact, Fleury talked often about how well Vokoun played.

Never, ever, let it be said that Fleury is not a team-first guy. He is, even at this challenging time for him professionally.

By the way, smart money, based off what I hear, is that he’s back in net if the Penguins can close out the Islanders.

= Columnist Dejan Kovacevic looks at those foundation blocks for a big Penguins’ victory:

= Kevin Gorman, who has been a big addition to #TribHKY this postseason, captured a Bronze Moment with his quick-turn look at Crosby’s mesmerizing goal:

= Jerry DiPaola, another big piece of our hockey coverage team, has been tasked with covering the Islanders. His latest:

= The notes from each squad: Pens: – Islanders:

= And, finally, some real good radio here between Tim Benz and Jeremy Roenick. Worth a listen while you’re on lunch break:

That is all for this Friday.

Game 6 is Saturday at Nassau Coliseum, 7 p.m. Root Sports Pittsburgh locally, NBCSports Network nationally.

If they win, a blood-feud showdown with Ottawa awaits the Penguins in Round 2.