Written by The Burgh Blog writer: Austin Tocco
8 wins down, 8 more to go. The Pittsburgh Penguins have defeated the heavily favored Presidents’ Trophy winner in 6 games of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. The Penguins won the game in overtime on a rebound that was put in by Nick Bonino just 6:32 into the OT period. The Penguins had all the momentum in the world throughout the entire game. They were getting pucks in behind the defense, dictating the play along the boards, attacking the star players of the Capitals, and scoring goals. Everyone knew the Capitals were not going to go down without a fight though, the Penguins launched the puck out of play 3 times in the third period to allow the visitors to score 2 goals on the power play which tied the game, but all that matters is that we won. It might not have been the prettiest ending, but they got it done, and boy does it feel wonderful.
As a fan, who do you give all the credit for this remarkable turnaround? Do you give the credit to Jim Rutherford, Mike Sullivan, maybe even Matt Murray? Maybe a combination of it all. Jim Rutherford brought several key players to this team that have made a lasting impact. Somehow stealing Trevor Daley, and Carl Hagelin, both of which were pivotal in the Stanley Cup playoffs so far. Mike Sullivan, if he had coached the entire year, would without a doubt be coach of the year in the NHL. Sullivan is strictly business, never grins, well unless his team wins a game like the one on Tuesday night to advance them to the Eastern conference finals. Matt Murray is 21 years of age, process that for a second. This rookie just beat the likely winner of the Vezina Trophy which is mind blowing to me. Each player in that locker room contributed somehow and I could not think of a game during the regular season that we looked as poised as we did Tuesday night at the Consol Energy Center. The effort was outstanding and I cannot say any more about the line of Bonino, Kessel, and Hagelin. This line scored all 4 goals in game 6 and really set the tone for this pivotal home game. They did not want to take their chances at the Verizon Center for game 7 that’s for sure.
This team is 100% different than we are used to. We just beat the best regular season team in the NHL without the production of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury who sits patiently on the bench. The Penguins are not relying on their superstars to put the puck in the net as much as they have been since they won the cup back in ’09. Of all the years following 2009, I have not seen a true contender in the Penguins, but this year is completely different. The buzz around the locker room, the arena, and the city is evident. Everyone is talking hockey right now, every game is enjoyable and even more exciting. Everywhere you walk you see a Penguins t-shirt, I cannot get enough of it. I could only imagine what the Consol Energy Center sounded like when Bonino put the dagger in the Capitals cup dreams, the eruption in the crowd is like no other in this city, and they have a huge reason to be excited as this may be the year.
I was listening to the radio call from Pittsburgh’s Mike Lange after the game and he could not have said this any better, “And all the Presidents’ Trophy men couldn’t put Humpty together again!” What a quote by the Pittsburgh legend. Alex Ovechkin has never brought a Stanley Cup to Washington, he has not even made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in his career. I could not believe that when I saw it, arguably one of the best players in the world and he cannot even lead his team to a Conference Final, mind blowing. Needless to say, the Capitals are missing a big piece and they need to find it so they have a better chance next year.
I am extremely pleased with the play of the Penguins throughout this entire series. They put their bodies on the line and outplayed the opposition for most of the series. Next, the Penguins will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the next round who are on fire, beating both the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Islanders in 5 games. Tampa Bay went 3-0 against the Penguins this year, but that was without all of the key additions that have made this city believe that a championship is in reach.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals begins Friday night in Pittsburgh at 8:00 on NBCSN, Friday the 13th. The Penguins have played extremely well on home ice, time to take advantage of this opportunity, win 4 games against the great team from Tampa, and compete to win a championship in the best sport on this planet. Playoff hockey is booming in Pittsburgh, let’s bring it home where it belongs.
For future Penguin updates, follow me on twitter @TheBurghBlog_AT