Pens' Game 7 Resurrection More a Reminder Than a Surprise
The Penguins are at their best when the stakes are high, which is what allows them to keep their heads when many around them are seemingly losing theirs.
They didn’t re-invent the wheel as it relates to the breakout or the forecheck as much as they reaffirmed who they are in Game 7.
Pens 2, Caps 0 –– we’d seen that fish before, not as it applies to the Capitals’ tortured postseason history against the Penguins but more in terms of the resolve, resiliency and character that helped ultimately decide this series, the characteristics Mike Sullivan keeps insisting are what define these Penguins.
That’s what the Penguins leaned upon the most in their effort to transition quickly from a disheartening, 5-2 loss on home ice in Game 6 into a day-of-reckoning Game 7 Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.
As it turns out, that wasn’t as difficult as it might have initially appeared.
“It couldn’t have gone any worse,” Brian Dumoulin joked regarding Game 6 after the Caps had finally been sent packing in Game 7. “We knew we were going to have a better game than that.”
The mood hadn’t been as cavalier in the immediate aftermath of Game 6, a potential series-clincher that had gotten away, and one that had played out in its final stages in front of a glaring number of empty seats at PPG Paints Arena amid a chorus of boos from a significant percentage of those who hadn’t already headed for the exits.
But nor had there been any panic.
The Penguins simply collected themselves and prepared to do what they’d done previously, what they had long since become convinced they were capable of doing again.
“As a group, ‘Sully” and all of us, we’ve been through a lot in a short period of time,” Matt Cullen emphasized. “I think he has a real feel for the pulse of our group.”
The temperature of the team taken by Sullivan between Games 6 and 7 led him to believe a little perspective was in order and not much more.
“We talked about putting it behind us,” Sullivan said. “We talked about making sure we re-set our mindset. But this group, I think they understand it, they’ve been through it before. They know there are going to momentum swings.
“The most important thing is that we stay in the moment.”
The players, Sullivan said, took it from there, relying upon their collective “maturity” and following the lead of captain Sidney Crosby and the Penguins’ core veterans.
Sullivan couldn’t be certain that would be enough to deliver the Penguins to the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa.
But he was confident they’d play well in Game 7 against Washington.
“We’ve been through so much since I’ve been here and they just always find a way to respond the right way to any of the challenges and adversities that this league throws at us,” Sullivan continued. “I think these guys are at their best when the stakes are high.”
The Penguins do, too, which is what helps allow them to keep their heads when many around them are seemingly losing theirs.
“We trust in ourselves in here,” Patric Hornqvist insisted.
Even when they lose a playoff game.
Especially when there’s still another game to play.