The Pittsburgh Penguins may or may not be God’s gift to hockey, but their third period in Game 4 was indisputably divine.
In scoring four times over the first 10 minutes of Wednesday’s final frame, the Penguins demoralized the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place and anesthetized the sting of dropping Game 3 in double overtime. Pittsburgh’s 7-3 victory earned a split on the road and will afford a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference final for the first time in four years.
But beyond any tangible gain from the blowout win, putting up seven and making the last 10 minutes of Game 4 inconsequential should be beneficial for the Penguins’ psyche. After hearing for two days how close they were to building a 3-0 lead in their second-round series, the Pens put their unfortunate last-minute lapse behind them in emphatic fashion.
Much ink (literal and digital) has been spilled about the Penguins’ recent postseason failures and breakdowns, and for good reason. This team hadn’t handled playoff stress well for at least the last couple of years, if not dating back to the Stanley Cup title in 2009. However, after surviving a fierce New York Islanders squad in Round 1 and rebounding from Ottawa’s improbable Sunday night rally, this year’s edition of the Pens has established its own resilient identity.
Some might look at Game 4 and dismiss it as a case of the Penguins scoring enough to make their problems go away. I call it a team playing to its strengths. As much as defensive hockey is glorified in the modern NHL – and especially in the postseason – it speaks volumes that Pens’ only loss in their last six games occurred when they played stereotypical “playoff hockey.”
Despite Pittsburgh’s attempts to bolster its defensive presence with acquisitions like Douglas Murray and Brandon Sutter, plus other tactical adjustments, this is a horse that needs to run. The Penguins are averaging an NHL-leading 4.1 goals in 10 playoff games, nearly a full goal ahead of the Senators and Bruins, who are second and third in offense, respectively.
With Tomas Vokoun continuing to provide competent goaltending and the penalty-killing unit ranked second-best among the eight remaining teams, there’s enough of a goal-prevention backbone for the Penguins’ elite offense to prevail more often than not.
Hockey is better for having Pittsburgh alive in the chase for the Cup, if only for the entertainment factor. The Senators were the No. 2 defensive team in the regular season, but the Penguins have pushed Ottawa to open it up to try to keep up. The result has been fun hockey, even if it turned Game 4 into a laugher late.
Anyone who watched the joyless slog that was Game 3 between New York and Boston on Tuesday would welcome some more flash in the playoffs. The Los Angeles-San Jose series has been fiercely competitive, but the Kings and Sharks have combined for 15 goals, one fewer than the Penguins have by themselves against the Senators.
This is supposed to be fun, right? Pittsburgh’s sheer offensive might is forcing entertainment down the NHL’s throat. Here’s to another month of good times.