Cook: No one can bump Adams from lineup

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Forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky, James Neal, Alex Kovalev, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Jussi Jokinen have at least two things in common. All were brought to Pittsburgh by Penguins general manager Ray Shero at or near the NHL trade deadline. None bumped fourth-liner Craig Adams from the lineup.

"I think you would have to fight Dan to get Adams out," Shero said after the Ponikarovsky deal in 2010.

Some things never change.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is a smart man. A team needs the Sidney Crosbys, Evgeni Malkins and Marc-Andre Fleurys to win a Stanley Cup, not to mention the Iginlas, Morrows and Jokinens. But it also needs a Craig Adams.

"I try to finish my checks," Adams was saying late Wednesday night after the Penguins blew away the New York Islanders, 5-0, in Game 1 of their playoff series. "I block shots. I try to kill penalties well. I try to win faceoffs. That's something I'm really trying to get better at. I have a little bit of experience ... "

And energy. A lot of energy. A lot of smarts, too. It's a nice skill set for Adams, a Harvard graduate and one of the Penguins' most underappreciated players. Underappreciated by a lot of people not named Bylsma, that is.

"Obviously, Dan has given me every opportunity to have a role and be successful," Adams said. "That helps a lot. For a guy like me, the coach has to be willing to give me some responsibility. Dan has done that. I'm comfortable here."

Adams gave Bylsma just what he expected against the Islanders -- his usual solid 15 1/2 minutes. He set up the second goal with hard work around the Islanders net. He led their wingers with 3:24 of short-handed time as they killed all four of the Islanders' power plays. He had four of their 36 hits as they tried to beat the heck out of the Islanders, most of who were new to the intensity and physicality of postseason hockey.

Adams seemed most pleased with the Penguins' penalty-kill. He was embarrassed they finished 25th in the NHL this season with a 79.6 percent kill-rate. "It got to the point I stopped looking at the percentage because it was so depressing," Adams said. You might guess how he felt about the Penguins killing just 11 of 23 power plays in their six-game, first-round playoff loss last season to the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I do think we did a good job tonight," Adams said of the effort against the Islanders. "It was a good start for us."

Forwards Tyler Kennedy, Dustin Jeffrey and Joe Vitale were among the healthy scratches in Game 1. There was no word Thursday about James Neal's availability for Game 2 tonight after he left the game Wednesday night with an apparent ankle injury. If Neal somehow can go and Crosby comes back after missing the past 13 games because of a broken jaw, another forward must be scratched. It probably will be Beau Bennett or Tanner Glass. It almost certainly won't be Adams, who might be Shero's best trade-deadline acquisition considering he came to the Penguins in 2009 on waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks. Adams played mostly right wing this season, was a center on the Penguins' Cup team in 2009 and played right wing for the Carolina Hurricanes when they won the Cup in 2006.

You can add versatility to Adams' skill set.

Adams certainly knows what it will take for these Penguins to win the Cup. To put it simply: Fifteen more performances that are very similar to the one Wednesday night.

"We've got to focus every day on doing the right thing. If we do that, we're going to have success," Adams said.

"You don't win games based on who has the highest payroll or the most talented players. Everyone wanted to hand us the Cup last year. You saw how that worked out ...

"I think we've been humbled."

The playoff loss to the Flyers still stings Adams. So does the first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning the spring before and the second-round loss to the Montreal Canadiens the spring before that.

"We've whiffed the past few years," Adams said. "There's a lot of pressure on us to get it right.

"You don't get that many chances. Teams like this don't come along all the time. Organizations like this don't come along all the time. Every guy in here is lucky to be a Pittsburgh Penguin."

This playoff run is especially meaningful to Adams because it could be his last with the Penguins. He turned 36 a week ago and is in the final year of his contract. Teammates Iginla, Morrow, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke also will become free-agent wingers. The Penguins aren't going to be able to keep all of them even if they win the Cup.

"Of course, I want to be here, but I know everything is fluid in this business," Adams said.

Say this about Adams: Nobody lasts forever in sports, but he's giving it quite a try.

mobilehome - penguins - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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