In the span of time between Thursday night and Sunday night, Penguins fans have experienced the full spectrum of emotion, from pole to pole. A 5-1 loss to a sad Carolina Hurricanes team felt like a crushing blow. A lot of eyes gazed in disbelief onto the ice. That frozen water surface beneath the Penguins was beginning to look a whole lot like rock bottom. The result of a frustrating, injury laden, downhill slide through the last third of the season. Last night, Pens fans went to bed not only feeling relieved to see the Pens grind out an impressive shootout win, but probably thinking, “That was it… Our Penguins are back.”
And maybe, just maybe… they’re right?
If the loss to Carolina wasn’t bad enough, on Saturday afternoon, Kris Letang was diagnosed with a concussion after a hit from Arizona’s Shane Doan, launched him backwards, head first, into the boards. The Penguins have faced similar situations where the masses harshly questioned if the team responded the “right way” or even at all. In a supportive/team-unifying way is what that discussion started boiling down to. Speaking of boiling down, Steve Downie had a fist or two for Shane Doan’s head to deliver the message of disapproval regarding his hit on Letang. A scoreless game once slowly ticking along as so many of them have in recent memory, took an energetic turn resulting in a 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Shane Doan vs Steve Downie Mar 28, 2015
The Downie scale probably still weighs more so to the side of being negative overall, but if there’s one thing you can’t call him, it’s inconsistent. Downie has been everything you thought he would be coming into the season and he’s delivered as advertised in every facet of his game, from the mindless rage beast who seemingly feeds on penalty minutes for sustenance, to the net front threat with 1st line winger scoring touch. He’s the live wire of this Penguins team, but that live wire never has the power cut off. If there’s something the Penguins could really rally behind this season, it’s a sense of consistency. Who would have expected that the consistency zapping the team back to life would come in the form of a player who is consistently unpredictable. Regardless, the Penguins responded.
There’s signs of life here, doctor.
If someone was to bet you that the Penguins would have a mammoth defensive game resulting in a win over the San Jose Sharks with Letang, Maatta and Ehrhoff out of the lineup, you’d probably be more interested in where that person got those fantastic drugs they’re so clearly on, than considering taking that bet. It turns out that person was taking some heavy doses of pure, uncut, reality and was high as hell on life. The long and short of it being the fight the Penguins showed in response to the Letang injury the day before, carried over and grew against San Jose. Like shock treatments rebuilding atrophied muscles, the Penguins showed more guts, heart and compete level than what most questioned if the team was even capable of possessing right now.
The Penguins were tested against the Sharks. They blew a strong 2 goal lead with first period strikes from Hornqvist and Kunitz. By the end of the 2nd, the Sharks had evened up the score at 2 a piece with one of those tallies coming on a power play, adding insult to injury to one of the strongest parts of the Penguins’ game. The 3rd period ends up scoreless after Perron swung a backside doorstep opportunity wide of the net, as the buzzer for regulation time sounded. With 4 on 4 overtime play on the way and the momentum feeling like it weighed in the Penguins’ favor, a win felt promising. Just over a minute into OT, that heightened confidence quickly turned into sheer terror after Hornqvist was hit with a double minor putting the Penguins a man down for almost a full 4 minutes and the remainder of the game.
Then the unlikely happened.
The Penguins sit just above 50% with a 6-5 record in games ending in overtime without moving into a shootout. Already performing at about 50%, the odds significantly drop out of your favor when you’re a man down for 80% of the overtime duration. If there was ever a way to show your fans you’re capable of digging deep, the Penguins penalty kill did just that in overtime.
Names like Rob Scuderi and Craig Adams aren’t often touted and most will own up to wanting to get rid of those two if they could. In last night’s overtime period, they showed what veteran leadership looks like. New acquisitions, Winnik and Lapierre made their presence known as well, aiding in the successful extended penalty kill. As the penalty kill executed stop after stop and the OT period drew nearer to a close, the crowd had gradually turned from a nervous silence to volcanic. When the horn sounded ending the overtime period, the Consol Energy Center was on its feet, clapping, cheering and chanting with no need for orchestration or jumbotron choreography. A shootout victory followed in the Penguins favor after goals were registered by Perron and Crosby accompanied by a perfect showing in net by Fleury.
Shootout: Sharks vs Penguins
We all can make our predictions as to what happens next with the Penguins. Is this truly a turning point and the Penguins have found their fight again, or is this going to turn out to be where the Penguins scraped out every drop of whatever was left in the tank this season? The impression given is the former over the latter, but time will tell how that story ends.
Heading into the playoffs, there’s no such thing as an easy game. Playoff bound or not, every team is looking to end the regular season on a positive note. The Penguins have their work cut out for them to keep this trend moving forward. Who knows? If the Penguins can manage to ride this momentum through the last stretch of regular season games and into the playoffs… maybe a cup run isn’t all that unrealistic? After all, the playoffs are really all about getting hot at the right time and taking full advantage of the pucks bouncing your way.
By: Eli Rebich