Penguins make a lineup shift late in Game 5, plus other postgame notes
April 20, 2017 11:52 PM
Marc-Andre Fleury became the franchise leader with his 57th career postseason win Thursday.
By Sam Werner and Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins’ lineup looked a bit different in the third period of Game 5 Thursday night than it did earlier on in the game.
Or, to be more accurate, it looked different than it has just about all season.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan flip-flopped Conor Sheary and Patric Hornqvist for the final 20 minutes Thursday night, with Sheary playing alongside Scott Wilson and Nick Bonino, and Hornqvist sliding up to Sidney Crosby’s top line opposite Jake Guentzel.
“Listen, Conor Sheary is a really good player,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “Patric Hornqvist is a really good player. They’re just different players. They bring a different dimension to their lines. We thought Horny could bring some size and some grit and help in the battle areas a little bit more, just because of his size and his strength and his ability to go to the net and win puck battles.”
A minor move, and Hornqvist certainly has plenty of experience playing with Crosby, but taking Sheary of Crosby’s line is a pretty significant change.
Sheary has played 83.4 percent of his 5-on-5 minutes with Crosby this season, and the two have shown some good chemistry since last year’s Stanley Cup run.
Sheary has hit a bit of a rough patch in this series, though, with no goals, just one assist and a minus-3 rating.
“Looking back on it, I think it helped us in the third period a little bit, both of the lines,” Sullivan said. “I think it helped Conor, in particular.”
Sullivan said he hasn’t thought much about what lineup he’ll use in Game 1 of the next round, against either Washington or Toronto. Best guess is he’ll go back to Sid and the Kids, at least to start, to see if that line can rekindle some of its mojo from the end of the regular season and the beginning of this series.
Pens win special teams battle
It felt appropriate that Crosby scored a hugely important goal on the power play Thursday. Poetic, even.
Alexander Wennberg bumped Marc-Andre Fleury, taking what looked for a second to be a 3-3 game back to 3-2, at 3:52 of the third period. At 5:31, Crosby delivered the dagger.
“We were really happy to get that two-goal lead,” Justin Schultz said. “We were happy to see that go in.”
The Penguins, of course, won the series in five. Special teams were a big reason why. Their power play finished 2 for 4 on Thursday and 5 for 15 in five games.
“Special teams are very important in the playoffs,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “Theirs was better than ours.”
The Blue Jackets scored a power-play goal Thursday — Boone Jenner got it in the second period — but finished just 2 for 12.
“It’s important to every series — special teams,” Crosby said. “Tonight it was really important for us.
"To gain some confidence is good, but we start fresh next series. Whoever we play, I’m sure will be different challenges and things we have to adjust to. It’s good that it was able to help us throughout the whole series.”
Winning in the circle
For an area in which they struggled this season, the Penguins sure looked comfortable in the faceoff circle against the Blue Jackets.
They won more than 50 percent of draws in four out of five games (probably not coincidentally, the four games they won) after being generally pretty hapless in that area during the regular season.
They finished the year with the fourth-worst faceoff percentage in the league (47.6 percent) but won 52.5 percent of the draws over five games against the Blue Jackets.
Jackets here to stay
Don’t expect this Columbus team to go anywhere. They’re talented. They’re young. They play a pain-in-the-butt style that you saw have an effect on the Penguins.
Just don’t try to sell Tortorella that this was a young group learning and finding its way.
“I’m not going to the young and inexperienced … I don’t want to go there at all,” Tortorella said. “I thought our guys had no fear. Playing against the Stanley Cup champs, a very good team, and we put a ton of good minutes in. I’m proud of our club. That’s not a 4-1 series.”
Numbers, notes and nuggets
• Fleury became the franchise record-holding with 57 career playoff wins, surpassing Tom Barrasso. His 49 saves set a career-high for a regulation postseason game.
• The Penguins are 13-4 in series in which they hold home-ice advantage during the Crosby/Malkin Era.
• Including the regular season, the Penguins have won 60 of their past 80 games at PPG Paints Arena.
• Penguins are 13-1-1 in their last 15 games against division opponents (regular season and playoffs).
• Ron Hainsey has a three-game point streak (1-2–3).
• Evgeni Malkin leads the NHL with 11 points this postseason. That’s tied for his best point production in a single series (2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals vs. Islanders).
• Bryan Rust has eight goals in his last 13 playoff games. Rust has seven goals and one assist in nine career postseason elimination games.
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