Olli Maatta

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Here’s how the Penguins will line up for Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row and are looking to become the first team to win it in back-to-back years in two decades.

Here is a look at how they are expected to lineup on Monday night for the first game of the series.

Forwards

Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyConor Sheary
Scott WilsonEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Bryan RustNick BoninoCarter Rowney
Jake GuentzelMatt CullenPatric Hornqvist

This is based on what we saw from the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Ottawa and based on the practice lines on Sunday. With Patric Hornqvist returning to the lineup on Monday night it is going to come down to Jake Guentzel or Carl Hagelin being the odd man out, and given that Hagelin spent extra time on the ice with the scratches following the morning skate it seems likely he will be the scratch. Guentzel is still the NHL’s playoff leader in goals, but is currently riding an eight-game goal drought.

The Kunitz-Crosby-Sheary line was assembled in Game 7 and produced two of the Penguins’ three goals in their double overtime win.

Defense

Ian ColeJustin Schultz
Olli MaattaTrevor Daley
Brian DumoulinRon Hainsey

While Mike Sullivan has had a tendency to throw his line combinations into a blender during the postseason, his defense pairings have remained relatively consistent as long as he has the same healthy players in the lineup. And they are the ones you see above. Cole and Schultz have spent a significant portion of the season playing alongside one another and have formed a really solid duo. Olli Maatta has had some struggles at times, but over the past couple of weeks has played some of his best hockey in over a year. All of these pairings will get a similar amount of ice time.

Goalies

Matt Murray (starter)
Marc-Andre Fleury (backup)

Murray has reclaimed his starting spot since returning from injury and has won three of his first four starts while posting a .946 save percentage. He is playing in his second Stanley Cup Final even though he is still considered a rookie in the eyes of the NHL.

Related: Here’s how the Predators will line up in Game 1

Trevor Daley eager to play in first Stanley Cup Final, after missing last year’s series due to injury

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Forced to watch last year’s championship series as a spectator, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley will now get his chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

Last spring, Daley suffered a broken ankle in the Eastern Conference Final, ending his postseason.

He didn’t play in the final, which Pittsburgh captured in six games, but did lift the Stanley Cup, the first player after Sidney Crosby to do so — a gesture from the Penguins captain to Daley, whose mother was battling cancer and wanted to see her son with hockey’s coveted silver chalice.

A week later, Daley’s mother passed away.

Despite missing time late in the second round and early in the third round because of injury, Daley returned to the Penguins lineup and played the final five games versus the Ottawa Senators. That’s a boost to Pittsburgh’s blue line, which has battled through injuries to key figures during the playoffs and even before with the loss of Kris Letang.

Daley’s wait for this opportunity will soon be over. Game 1 against the Nashville Predators goes Monday.

“It feels like we were just here. To get back here this soon is pretty cool,” said Daley on Sunday.  “It sucks to watch. I don’t know how you guys do it.”

It’s a rare feat in the salary cap era for a Stanley Cup-winning team to even make it back to the final the following year. The Detroit Red Wings were the last team to do that, back in 2008 and 2009.

“I think he understands how difficult it is to win the Stanley Cup,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “So I think he’s one of those guys that doesn’t take it for granted.”

Since his return during the last round, Daley has played 21:39 per game, with a two-point performance in that Game 5 blowout win versus the Senators. What makes Pittsburgh’s run back to the final more impressive is the fact they’ve made it — and that includes a second-round victory against Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington — without a true No. 1 defenseman, a distinction that usually belongs to Letang, except his season came to an end before the playoffs began.

Daley has been hurt during this postseason. So, too, has Justin Schultz. All of the injuries on defense meant greater responsibility for Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, Ron Hainsey and Ian Cole.

Daley has been back for a while now. Schultz returned for Game 7 versus Ottawa and played more than 24 minutes, with a goal and an assist. But with the injuries on defense, the Penguins have redefined the phrase ‘defense by committee.’

Depth on the blue line was an issue general manager Jim Rutherford addressed at the deadline, acquiring the 36-year-old Hainsey.

Despite his age and more than 900 games of regular season experience, Hainsey had never played a Stanley Cup playoff game in his career. At least, not until this spring. He has one goal and five points in 19 playoff games this year. He’s never been known for eye-popping offensive production, but what he has done for the Penguins is provide a reliable presence on defense and quality ice time, averaging more than 21 minutes per game.

It’s been a long time coming, but now, he too will play in the final.

“We all know about it. This is his first time in the playoffs. I was telling him the other day, ‘You’re undefeated. You’ve never lost a series,'” said Daley. “So that’s a pretty good record so far.”

For Penguins’ defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The handful of men who carry out the most thankless of tasks for the Pittsburgh Penguins are a rag-tag group thrown together by circumstance and a touch of foresight by general manager Jim Rutherford.

They are largely anonymous and blissfully so, only too happy to work in the considerable shadows created by the stars who play in front of them and their unquestioned leader, the one forced to watch the franchise’s run to a second straight Stanley Cup Final in immaculately tailored suits from the press box while he recovers from neck surgery.

When defenseman Kris Letang‘s star-crossed season ended for good in early April when he abandoned any hope of a comeback from the injuries that limited him to just 40 games this season, the chances of the Penguins becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles was supposed to vanish along with him.

Yet here they are hosting Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night, four wins away from a repeat that seemed improbable seven weeks ago. And they’ve done it with a group of blue liners who lack Letang’s unique talents or the undeniable dynamic charisma of the defensemen like P.K. Subban who have helped power the Predators’ dominant sprint to the final.

“That’s fine with us,” said Brian Dumoulin, who leads the Penguins in ice time during the postseason. “They’re great players and stuff like that. No chip on our shoulder. We know who we are as a D core.”

They might be one of the few. A quick introduction.

There’s well-traveled Ron Hainsey, the 36-year-old who needed to wait a record 907 games before reaching the postseason for the first time in his 14-year career.

There’s Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, the battle-tested veteran and the baby-faced kid from Finland, both of whom spent significant chunks of time on the injured reserve this season only to develop an unquantifiable chemistry during the playoffs.

There’s Dumoulin, who has become Pittsburgh’s new iron man with Letang out. There’s Ian Cole, the thoughtful well-bearded conscience who revels in the more physical aspects of his job.

There’s 39-year-old Mark Streit, who like Hainsey was brought in as insurance at the trade deadline then spent six weeks as a healthy scratch only to fill in capably when another spate of injuries struck in the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa.

Mostly, however, there’s Justin Schultz. Considered a disappointment during three-plus underwhelming seasons in Edmonton, Schultz has spent 15 months in Pittsburgh remodeling his game.

It’s Schultz who has taken over as the quarterback on the Penguins’ potent power play. It’s Schultz who has found a knack for the big moment. He delivered the winning goal in Game 4 of the second round against Washington. He put the Penguins ahead in the third period of Game 7 against Ottawa and ended up with the secondary assist on Chris Kunitz‘s knuckler that finally put away the Senators in double overtime.

Schultz is reluctant to talk about his transformation or the upper-body injury that sidelined him for four games during the Ottawa series. He returned for the decider to play more than 24 minutes, gritting his teeth all the way through.

When asked if the injury limited his ability to get off the shot that became his third goal of the postseason, Schultz responded with typical modesty.

“Not full but like I said, those guys did such a good job screening … it didn’t have to be the hardest shot to get through,” said Schultz, who set a career -high with 51 points during the regular season and has added another 10 in the playoffs.

Schultz, however, could always shoot. That’s never been the problem. It’s at the other end of the ice where he’s truly matured and likely made him one of the most coveted free agents to be in the process.

The defenseman who never had any trouble jumping into the play has not become adept at thwarting them too.

“He’s always had ability to excel on the offensive side,” said Penguins assistant Jacques Martin, who coaches the defense. “He’s got tremendous vision. He’s been able to replace Kris on the power play. The area (of growth) that’s most noticeable has been his defensive side … his positioning. He’s improved his compete level, his use of his stick, his position. All areas he’s grown in over the season.”

The Penguins have needed every last ounce of it as they have from the rest of their defensemen who has spent the last four months trying to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Letang.

It’s been a group effort. More than once Pittsburgh has been forced to go long stretches in games with only five defensemen because one of them went down. When Shultz left Game 2 against the Senators, Dumoulin played 26 minutes, Hainsey nearly 25 and Maatta 22. The Penguins survived 1-0 to even the series.

“If you look at last year in playoffs it was Kris Letang and then the rest of us,” Dumoulin said. “That’s not the case right now. Obviously whatever role that you’re asked to do, whatever opportunity is there, you’re going to do it. We’re not going to be the offensive guy Kris Letang was. Nobody is going to be in that aspect.”

The object is to make sure it doesn’t matter. So far, it hasn’t.

“I think we have a group back there that cares about each other, that are really playing within their limitations,” Martin said. “I think that’s the key.”

Related: Penguins’ run to Stanley Cup Final filled with challenges

 

Penguins send Senators to brink of elimination after dominating Game 5

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The defending champions are one win away from once again reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

Despite numerous injury concerns, particularly on defense, the Pittsburgh Penguins came roaring out of the gate in the first period, scoring four times and chasing Craig Anderson from the Senators’ net, before cruising to a 7-0 victory on home ice.

A great start for Pittsburgh. A disastrous start for Ottawa.

The Penguins now lead the Eastern Conference Final 3-2, and they will have their first chance to eliminate the Senators on Tuesday in Ottawa.

For the second time in as many games, Olli Maatta got the Penguins on the board first. In the span of just over 10 minutes Sunday, the Penguins suddenly opened up a four-goal lead. This one was over quickly.

Sidney Crosby on the power play, Bryan Rust and Scott Wilson continued the onslaught. Anderson allowed four goals on 14 shots before giving way to Mike Condon to begin the second period.

It turned into a blowout from there.

Pittsburgh continued to add to their lead, and dominated puck possession and the shot clock against the listless Senators the rest of the way.

Adding further concern for the Senators will be the condition of captain Erik Karlsson. Having played through a foot injury in these playoffs, Karlsson left Game 5 after an awkward fall during the second period and didn’t return for the third period.

Craig Anderson had a rough first period for the Senators

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins came out flying on Sunday afternoon with what was perhaps their best start of the playoffs.

Thanks to goals from Olli Maatta, Sidney Crosby, Nick Bonino and Scott Wilson they were able to jump out to an early 4-0 lead.

What was amazing about the entire sequence is Senators coach Guy Boucher pulled starting goalie Craig Anderson in favor of backup Mike Condon after the the third goal, only to put Anderson back in after the next stoppage.

Anderson promptly gave up a goal on the first shot he faced after returning.

Crosby’s goal came on a deflection in front of the net on a power play, while Bonino’s goal was the result of a dominant shift from the Penguins that saw them spend nearly two minutes cycling the puck in the offensive zone.

Anderson was replaced by Condon for the start of the second period.