Penguins not playing over their heads
By Mike Prisuta
Thursday, March 8, 2007
The Penguins were fortunate in Ottawa, but what they achieved was nonetheless revealing.
It had been since Oct. 15, 1991, that the Pens found themselves trailing by three or more goals in the third period on the road and came back to win a game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Back then, the deficit was 6-2 on Long Island, before goals from Mario Lemieux (two), Mark Recchi, Jaromir Jagr and Phil Bourque decided it in favor of the then-defending champions.
"Mine was the game-winner in OT," Bourque recalled Wednesday.
Bourque is a radio analyst these days.
And Recchi is 39.
So, yeah, it had been awhile.
The current Penguins are a lot closer to relocation than they are defending a Stanley Cup championship, so let the comparisons end there.
But the Pens also are starting to look like more than merely a playoff team. They're beginning to suspiciously resemble a collection capable of inflicting some serious damage in the postseason.
That charge back from a 4-1 deficit with less than 11 minutes remaining in regulation Tuesday night produced the Penguins' 18th victory in their past 24 games.
They've picked up points in 20 of their past 24 (18-4-2 --, a stretch that represents 29.3 percent of their schedule.
At some point, such production goes beyond identifying a team as "hot" and instead reveals one that's come together.
The Pens have done well enough as a unit to be able to stay together and win a game in which they had to pull their goaltender early, as they did against the Senators.
They've become a team that can win without its power-play dominating and without Sidney Crosby -- no points in regulation in four of the past five games -- putting up numbers at a league-leading pace.
The Pens can win when Evgeni Malkin looks like only the second-best rookie in the NHL, in part because there are times when Jordan Staal looks like the best.
They can win when they bench a second-line winger -- Michel Ouellet against the Senators. Such is the extent of the quality depth -- Nils Ekman.
They can win with the lines and the defense pairings seemingly in a constant state of change, in part because it's become more important to play the system than it is to play in consistent combinations.
They can roll four lines and play almost everyone in overtime. Eight of 12 forwards and all six defensemen saw extra-session ice time in Ottawa, and Crosby skated two shifts in five minutes.
They haven't gone 18-4-2 by accident, not that they're taking 18-4-2 for granted.
"It's one-goal games, shootouts, overtimes, differences of third periods," Crosby said. "Twenty of our games could have gone the other way."
Could have, yes.
But they didn't.