Pittsburgh Penguins' Blueprint to a Deep Run in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Pittsburgh Penguins didn't run over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1, but they managed to battle back from a two-goal deficit to secure the win. The magic number to win the Stanley Cup is 16. They don't give out extra points based on how sexy a win is.
By winning the opening contest of the series, Pittsburgh's number is down to 15. A slash mark is a slash mark at this time of year. While the Penguins weren't perfect on Wednesday evening, they didn't need to be, and there are several positives worth building on moving forward.
Simply winning Game 1 in the first round against a wild card opponent doesn't guarantee anything for this hungry squad which is looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years. With the winds of disappointment blowing at its back, there are a few keys to Pittsburgh's continued success in these playoffs.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com, and are accurate through games played on April 16.
Continue Making in-Game Adjustments
The fire-Dan Bylsma sect of Penguins fans don't have a whole lot of ammo following Game 1. Heading into the playoffs, the head coach's ability to make small, in-game adjustments was a key to success, and that hasn't changed.
In the opening contest, we saw just how important micromanaging can be. Bylsma—in clear and evident ways—influenced Pittsburgh and was a big player in the bounce-back win.
He didn't hesitate to pull Kris Letang off of the power play after the defender turned the puck over and handed the Blue Jackets a short-handed goal. Matt Niskanen took power-play quarterback duties and generated two goals from the point.
Bylsma doesn't typically chase matchups, but he did his best to keep Sidney Crosby away from Brandon Dubinsky. The coach also didn't like the way No. 87's line looked out of the gate, so he moved Beau Bennett off of that line and replaced him with Brian Gibbons.
Bennett spent most of the contest on the bench actually, as Bylsma shrank his bench while hunting for goals and a come-from-behind win. Continuing to make these small adjustments throughout the playoffs is paramount to the success of this team.
Production from the Depth Players
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin didn't score for the Penguins in Game 1. During the 2013 postseason, that might have done the team in. If Game 1 was any indication, Pittsburgh will be able to rely on the supporting cast a bit more this time around.
On paper, it might not make much sense. The 2013 squad is much prettier when rolled out, player by player. This version of the Penguins might have a touch more scoring ability in the bottom six, though, and that's a positive thing.
Depth wins Stanley Cups, after all. If the top lines are equal and neither goalie has a meltdown, the third and fourth lines must come through. Cue Brandon Sutter, who did his best Jordan Staal impression by scoring the go-ahead goal toward the middle of the third period in Game 1.
Marcel Goc was a healthy scratch. So was Taylor Pyatt. As the Penguins continue to regain bodies throughout the lineup, the goals will continue to spread themselves out. That needs to be the case, as Crosby and "Geno" can't produce four goals every night.
Just Skate Away
The Blue Jackets were credited with nearly 50 hits in Game 1—and that's with Pittsburgh keeping track on the scorecard. Pittsburgh shouldn't expect Columbus to ease up one bit. Physicality will be a key to this series as it progresses, but only for one of the two squads involved.
Guys like Dubinsky and Derek MacKenzie are going to bump and hit before plays, during play and after the whistle. Game in and game out. The Penguins engaged a bit too much in the extracurricular activity in Game 1, and that is only playing into Columbus' game plan.
The word is out on Crosby and Malkin. Hit them and slash them and they get away from their games. That's two minutes well worth it for the Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh engaged in several retaliatory exchanges, though, and that isn't how it's going to win another series or another Stanley Cup.
Don't Force the Issue with Kris Letang
Kris Letang didn't play a lot of hockey this season. A knee injury kept him out during the early stages of the system, and he wasn't able to learn Pittsburgh's new defensive systems during training camp. He struggled to get up to speed once he returned to action at the end of October.
Then Letang had his entire world flipped when he suffered a stroke on January 29, in the best shape of his life as a 26-year-old professional athlete, no less. There were questions about whether or not he'd ever be able to play again, and those worries eventually dwindled over his 2013-14 season.
Yet here he is, playing in the first round against the Blue Jackets. After missing so much time and without the chance to practice for several months, it's no surprise that the defender isn't exactly running on all cylinders.
Bylsma had his finger on the pulse of this situation in Game 1, and he needs to continue to put Letang in positions where he can slowly become comfortable with the speed and intensity of the playoffs.
Keep Running Up That Hill
A lot of pundits have used a lot of words to describe this Penguins team over the last few seasons. "Resilient" hasn't often been mentioned—despite the rash of injuries that Pittsburgh played through this year.
Against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, Pittsburgh seemed to come apart at the seams. All the glue burned off through Games 1 and 2, and the Penguins were an unrecognizable pile of ash by the end of the fourth contest.
There were question marks about the team's ability to deal with adversity. Could the Penguins find ways to score goals when they weren't coming easy? When the offense wasn't pretty and the neutral zone was clogged up and the opposition was in full-on turtle mode?
They couldn't last year. Game 1 against the Blue Jackets was an important step for the team in terms of finding a way to win a game that could have easily been lost. The playoffs are never easy. Nothing comes without a fight.
The Penguins must continue to battle for every inch. Even when a game seems out of reach. Instead of getting frustrated, just go out and play.