Written by The Burgh Blog writer: Austin Tocco
HBK, commonly referred to by most as “heart break kids,” not it Pittsburgh any longer. The third line of the Pittsburgh Penguins are now referred to as HBK, Hagelin, Bonino, and Kessel. This line yesterday proved their worth to the Penguins yesterday as they contributed 5 points to the winning effort of the Penguins. Pittsburgh defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning relatively easily by a score of 4-2, but it very well could have been 6-2 or even 7-2.
Leading the way of the HBK line was winger Phil Kessel. Kessel had a goal and an assist in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and fired 8 shots on goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. This line has everything a coach would want, speed, skill, patience, and execution. HBK has proven to be one of the best lines in all of hockey and has been a major issue for Tampa to contain. It is hard to find such good chemistry between line-mates as quickly as they did, and it has worked out in our favor since the Penguins acquired Carl Hagelin from the Anaheim Ducks. Originally, Malkin was centering Hagelin and Kessel, but once Malkin went down due to injury, Bonino entered the spot and has not been removed since. The way they pass the puck and communicate with each other is phenomenal. Mike Sullivan stated after the game, “They are responsible in the defensive zone. They can play against anybody.” All three of these players play a 200 foot game and contribute anywhere they can on the ice to help the team win. It is easy for the players to notice as well, “It’s the best line right now. We want to win. I can play anywhere. I just want to help the team to win,” center Evgeni Malkin said following game 3. This team is a tight knit group that will do anything for each other, they want to win a championship together.
Game 3 was the best game the Penguins have played all post-season. From the opening puck drop, the Penguins dominated play. Whatever coach Sullivan drew up prior to this game worked extremely well. The dump and chase strategy was working wonders and our speed took care of the rest. Once the puck was in the offensive zone, our defenders were able to pinch to prevent the puck from exiting the zone, this caused havoc for the Lightning as their fatigue hit all-time highs. Coach Cooper even had to call a time-out in the second period which was caused by a shift by the Crosby unit that left the Lightning players out of breath. The Penguins were in their zone for over 45 seconds during that shift, the Lightning had no choice but to call a time-out. I not only give the credit to the HBK line, but the professionalism and willingness to change styles on the fly by Mike Sullivan really sparked the team when need be.
The Penguins finished with an astonishing 48 shots on goal, while the Lightning finished with 28. Hagelin, Kessel, Kunitz, and Crosby all scored to help the Penguins go up 2-1 in the series. The Penguins would like nothing more than to come back to Pittsburgh Sunday night up 3-1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jon Cooper relayed to the media that it would be unlikely to see starting goalie Ben Bishop between the pipes in game 4, the Penguins need to take advantage of that like they did in game 3. You have to give credit to the 21 year old goaltender for the Lightning, he has big shoes to fill while Bishop is still recovering. Vasilevskiy has had to be stellar against the Penguins in this series, the offensive juggernauts of the Lightning have been irrelevant so far in this series. Our defenders are attacking them early as they enter the zone and the back-checking from the forwards are aiding in quick turnovers by the opposition. Tampa was really lucky the Penguins only won by 2.
HBK has brought a whole new level of excitement to the city of Pittsburgh. Watching them on the ice is a show and their chemistry is better than most. Keep in mind, Crosby or Malkin are not even on this line, not only does the opposition need to worry about the two headed monster, but now they have to worry about Hagelin, Kessel, and Bonino. Having the depth that the Penguins do really causes problems for the Lightning, you can thank GM Jim Rutherford for that. Rutherford was named a finalist for the GM of the year, if the Penguins get by the Lightning, you could consider him a favorite to win this award, and after all, he does deserve it.
The Penguins continue their quest for the cup Friday at 8:00 EST on NBCSN in Tampa, Florida. Just two wins separate the Penguins from a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, and if the Penguins win on Friday, Consol will be ready to watch the Penguins clinch on Sunday. Two. More. Wins.
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