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|Sidney Crosby tormented the Flyers just as he has from the start of his NHL career. Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin were clutch when needed in pivotal games. And Matt Murray? Oh Justin Abdelkader Jersey , just two shutouts and the type of outings that show more zeros on the board are possible in the second round – and maybe, beyond. But with the game on the line and facing a Game 7 on home ice where they already lost twice, the Pittsburgh Penguins turned to a blossoming postseason star to lead the way.
Jake Guentzel was just the player to bail out the Pens.
He scored the tying and go-ahead goals in Game 6, then scored two more – all four in succession – to put the game away and lift the Penguins to an 8-5 Game 6 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
The Flyers are headed home, as usual, with a Stanley Cup drought that dates to 1975.
The Penguins are nestled in a familiar spot, in the second round for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons.
But a bigger prize looms for the Penguins – a third straight Stanley Cup. The Penguins have won nine straight playoff series, which ties a franchise record and are the most in the NHL since the Detroit Red Wings also won nine from 1997 to 1999.
The New York Islanders are the last team to win 10 straight, in fact, they won 19 consecutive postseason series (1980 to 1984) that included four Stanley Cup championships.
Now comes the hard part.
Pittsburgh has reached the same round as the last three teams going for a threepeat (1989 Oilers, 1993 Penguins, 1999 Red Wings) – and all three lost in the second round.
The Penguins say, bring it on.
”Things are never going to always go your way, especially in the playoffs Tobias Rieder Jersey ,” Murray said. ”We got the job done. This time of year, it doesn’t matter how, it just matters that you get the win.”
Crosby had a hat trick in Game 1 and matched a postseason-high with four points in a Game 3 win in the Philadelphia arena where fans stuck his photo on the inside of urinals.
He shook it off – as if he was ever bothered by the activity – and scored six goals and had 13 points in the series.
”Sid loves to compete. When he goes to hostile environments, he’s at his best,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”He’s a high-stakes player. He has `it’. `It’ is what helps you perform in those big moments. It’s hard to explain `it’. You know `it’ when you see it. Sid is one of those guys.”
Crosby has been the dominant and reliable Penguin over the course of a career that includes three Stanley Cups. But this season brought new challenges to the franchise.
The Penguins have crafted a new identity after the departures of Chris Kunitz, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley and Matt Cullen, all vital pieces of Pittsburgh’s 2016 and 2017 titles.
”I think we have a bunch of capable guys that can play for us here. It’s kind of the next man up and the guys did a great job,” Guentzel said.
Sure, four goals is a bit ridiculous, but Guentzel will need to be a key contributor again especially if Malkin isn’t ready to go.
Malkin, who scored three goals in five games, sat out Game 6 with a leg injury. He missed the final four minutes of the first period in Game 5 after Philadelphia’s Jori Lehtera fell on it when the two got tangled in the corner. Malkin returned to start the second period. But he was hurt to the point where he sat out Game 6 Henrik Lundqvist Jersey Kids , and all it takes is one nagging injury to slow down the road toward completing the Stanley Cup trilogy.
If he plays or not, there are still enough playoff-tested Penguins to keep them rolling.
”We’ve been through a number of these elimination games over the last couple of years so it’s not a surprise to any of us,” Sullivan said. ”My hope moving forward is we can learn from those experiences and hopefully we have better success.”
Bruce Cassidy watched from afar as Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stoned Travis Zajac on a breakaway and knew that was the kind of save teams need in the playoffs.
One night later, the Boston coach saw up close how Tuukka Rask got his blocker on Mitch Marner’s breakaway attempt on the way to another Bruins victory.
”Every team needs goaltending,” Cassidy said. ”On the road, you’re going to need a little extra at some point. We got it.”
The Bruins aren’t the only team getting great goaltending at crucial moments as the first round wraps up. While Rask has them up 3-1 on Toronto, Vasilevskiy is the biggest reason Tampa Bay has the New Jersey Devils on the brink of elimination and Braden Holtby has stabilized the Washington Capitals to tie their series against Columbus going into Game 5 Saturday (3 p.m. EDT, NBC/NBCSN).
After a high-scoring start to the Stanley Cup playoffs, netminders are making spectacular saves when called upon. A lot of the routine stops, too. Even though postseason scoring is up 7 percent from last year, Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury and San Jose’s Martin Jones combined to allow just seven goals in eight games – two four-game sweeps – to set up a second-round showdown. Rask and Vaslievskiy have each given up just nine through five games and Holtby has stopped 63 of 67 shots since replacing Philipp Grubauer in goal.
”Your job obviously every game as a goaltender is to limit bad goals,” Holtby said Friday. ”Your goalie’s there to calm things down at the right minutes – make a big save here and there.”
Big saves are a bigger deal this time of year than volume, considering how many harmless shots are flicked at the net from long range. Sometimes those go in, like when Boston’s Torrey Krug floated a weak shot past Frederik Andersen in Game 4 Thursday night.
Few of those have happened in these playoffs against Rask Jacob Markstrom Jersey , Holtby and Vasilevskiy, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, the NHL’s top goalie award. Rask’s 2.27 goals-against average and .926 save percentage are indicative of just how solid he has been in giving the Bruins a chance to close out the Maple Leafs on Saturday (8 p.m. EDT, NBC).
”He’s one of the best goalies in the world and gives us an opportunity to win every night,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand said of Rask, who won the Vezina in 2014.
Rask might be salty that he wasn’t one of the three Vezina finalists, finishing behind Nashville’s Pekka Rinne, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Vasilevskiy, who get a postseason trip to the awards show in Las Vegas. Vasilevskiy earned it with a strong first half of the season, struggled late and is back in form with Atlantic Division-champion Tampa Bay able advance with a win Saturday (3 p.m. EDT, NBC/NBCSN).
Lightning coach Jon Cooper doesn’t think Vasilevskiy played poorly in the final quarter of the regular season as much as his team’s defensive game sagged. That has changed against the Devils, though Vasilevskiy has bailed out Tampa Bay on a few occasions.
”When your team’s playing better defense it helps your goaltender out and he doesn’t have to make as many highlight-reel saves,” Cooper said. ”I think what you’re seeing in the playoffs is a group that’s been determined to play both ends of the ice, and in turn that’s helping Vasilevskiy out.”
Game 4 Thursday was Holtby’s first time allowing fewer than two goals in a start since Nov. 18. But the 2016 Vezina winner insists he doesn’t feel any different than before his time off to reset his game in March.
He just looks like his old self.
”I think it’s got him to a place where he feels like Braden Holtby again Womens Jake Gardiner Jersey , like he trusts his game, he trusts what he’s put in,” coach Barry Trotz said. ”He’s focused on the right things and it’s allowed him to get to a place where I think he feels very comfortable.”
When Bruins star Patrice Bergeron’s streak of 104 consecutive playoff games ended because of an undisclosed injury, unheralded Riley Nash excelled centering the top line of Marchand and David Pastrnak in Game 4 in Toronto.
”He plays a two-way game,” Bruins center David Krejci said. ”He’s got good skills as well, so he fit well on that line.”
Cassidy said a decision on Bergeron playing in Game 5 won’t come until Saturday. Toronto center Nazem Kadri will return from a three-game suspension for boarding Tommy Wingels.
Lightning winger Ryan Callahan is a game-time decision against the Devils, who are likely to be without top defenseman Sami Vatanen.
Columbus center Alexander Wennberg skated Friday and could return after missing three games after a hit to the head from Tom Wilson. Washington won’t have winger Andre Burakovsky for the rest of the series because of an upper-body injury that Trotz said requires ”minor” surgery.
Without Burakovsky, Chandler Stephenson earned the promotion to the Capitals’ top line and has thrived with significant ice time alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.
”It’s something you only dream of,” Stephenson said. ”Growing up watching them and then finally playing with them, it’s quite the special feeling.”
CLOSE THE DEAL
Going through a grueling run to the 2015 Cup Final taught Cooper a lesson about the benefits of finishing a team off in elimination games. The same goes for the banged-up Bruins because they’re on a crash course to face the Lightning in the second round.
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