Eaton sees similarities to 2009 Penguins in '13 runup to Stanley Cup

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There are 10 Penguins who remain from the 2009 Stanley Cup team, seven forwards, two defensemen and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who entered the postseason in the three ensuing years looking to win it again but not getting there.

They are revisiting that doorstep again this year, with a loaded roster about to embark on a playoff journey that could last anywhere from four games to four rounds.

Mark Eaton falls into his own category on the club. He earned a ring and had his name etched on the Cup in 2009, but he's not a holdover.

Eaton spent another season with the Penguins, jumped to the New York Islanders for two seasons, and now he's back. He and the Penguins will face the Islanders in the first round of this year's playoffs.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS: Eastern Conference first-round series

  • Game 1:

    Wednesday, Consol Energy Center, 7:30 p.m.

  • Game 2:

    Friday, Consol Energy Center, 7 p.m.

  • Game 3:

    Sunday, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y., noon

  • Game 4:

    Tuesday, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y., 7 p.m.

  • *-Game 5:

    May 9, Consol Energy Center, 7 p.m.

  • *-Game 6:

    May 11, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y., TBA

  • *-Game 7:

    May 12, Consol Energy Center, TBA

(*-If necessary)

After seeing the glory and the gory -- the Islanders were well out of a playoff spot the past two seasons -- Eaton was asked to look for traits with this Penguins club that might relate to the 2009 version.

"Obviously, there are some similarities with the core group of guys, similarity in the personnel," he said.

Eaton also pointed to the stretch run of this season, which was different and yet had a similar feel as far as preparation for the playoffs.

In February 2009, the Penguins were in danger of missing the playoffs. They caught a spark when Dan Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien as coach and fresh faces Bill Guerin and Craig Adams were added to the roster.

That team went 18-3-4 over the 25 games between Bylsma taking over and the end of the regular season.

This season was nearly a stretch drive from the get-go when a lockout delayed the start to Jan. 19. The Penguins won 36 of their 48 games. Over their past 25, they went 21-4, including an 8-3 victory Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes in their regular-season finale at Consol Energy Center.

"I remember in '09 we had to go on a good streak just to make the playoffs," Eaton said. "We entered the playoffs having played playoff hockey for a month and a half or so.

"Not too much is different there. We've been in a playoff spot the whole season, so we weren't fighting for our lives, so to speak, but still we put some good streaks together."

The Penguins had winning streaks of 15 and seven games this season and never lost more than two in a row.

"So we're winning games going into the playoffs, and that's what you want to do," Eaton said.

The game Saturday aside, the Penguins also employed a playoff style for much of this season, going 26-7 in one- and two-goal games.

"A lot of our wins haven't been blowout wins," Eaton said. "They've been one-goal games, tight the whole way, tight checking. That's how the playoffs are going to be."

That much is similar, but it's not necessarily déjà vu for Eaton, or even like he never left.

A strong defensive defenseman who has been set back by several injuries, he found himself 35 and unsigned in the summer. That lasted through the lockout and into the season, when the Penguins brought him on a tryout basis to their American Hockey League team.

When that went well, they brought him to the NHL club as a practice player and, eventually, signed him through the end of the season. That move raised some eyebrows because the Penguins are loaded on defense, but Eaton was a healthy scratch for just three of the final 27 games. He not only proved valuable when injuries struck, but also earned time as a lineup regular.

Saturday, he was paired with Kris Letang, his partner from 2009. Just like old times. Sort of.

"The circumstances are a lot different -- coming here this year having not been signed and having to work my way onto being part of the team," Eaton said.

"Systems-wise, so much is still the same and it allowed me to kind of hit the ground running."

Eaton had no points in 23 games, a plus-minus rating of plus-9 and 33 blocked shots.

He has just 24 goals in 650 NHL games, but he had four in 24 games in the 2009 Cup run. One of those came when he batted a puck out of the air, baseball style, to score the Penguins' second goal in Game 6 of the first round against Philadelphia.

Penguins fans might remember that as the game when the Penguins, sparked by Max Talbot's fight against Daniel Carcillo, charged back with five unanswered goals in a 5-3 win to close out the series.

"As far as the point in the series and the point in the game, it was probably one of the biggest goals I've scored," Eaton said.

Perhaps he has a big goal or two up his sleeve for the 2013 postseason.

"You see my stats right now. I'm obviously just saving them up for the playoffs," Eaton said, laughing. "It's nice to be able to chip in, but I don't think they're looking for offense from me."

NOTES -- Winger/enforcer Steve MacIntyre was reassigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. He played in one game, a week ago at Ottawa, accumulating 12 penalty minutes. ... The Penguins were given Sunday off.

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For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Shelly Anderson:, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly. First Published April 29, 2013 4:00 AM


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