The 2018 playoff edition Pittsburgh Penguins have not worn opponents with relentless offensive pressure, as the 2016 version did. This incarnation has struck like a flurry of punches from Muhammad Ali. Often without warning, the Penguins have scored in bunches and with lightning speed.
The Philadelphia Flyers are still wondering how it happened.
In Game 6, Round 1, the Penguins scored two goals in 1:26 to surge ahead, then 10 minutes later, they scored two goals in a scant 10 seconds to put the game out of reach and end the series. During Game 3, the Penguins were being outplayed but scored three second-period goals in just 4:05. And, in Game 4, they salted the game with two goals in 2:52.
In Game 1, Round 2, the Penguins beat the Washington Capitals with three third-period goals in just 4:49.
When Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Conor Sheary about killer instinct, he replied, “When we get one goal, it seems we get three…”
The positive spin: The Penguins are poised enough and talented enough to absorb their opponent’s momentum or reverse their own poor play, quickly.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan during Friday’s conference call if the bursts could be a substitute for a 60-minute game.
“Hockey, in a lot of ways, is a game of momentum. And when you have it, you have to try to maximize the opportunities in front of you,” Sullivan said. “I think our team does a really good job at that.”
“It’s not like we put a game plan together to say we’re going to score three goals in three minutes.”
No, that would seem to be poor planning, eh?
But, the ability to strike quickly has masked extended periods of sketchy play by the Penguins. The Flyers had taken it to the Penguins in Game 2, before the Penguins outburst. In Game 6, the Flyers were also applying heavy pressure before the Penguins third period outburst.
A win is a win, and it doesn’t matter if teams score twice in 30 seconds, or 59 minutes apart.
“What inevitably helps a team have success, is its ability to control momentum,” Sullivan said. “Either maximize it when you have the momentum or make sure you don’t get hurt when you don’t have momentum.”
The Capitals are notorious for their home-ice surges. One of their intense attacks was on March 1, 2016. The Capitals erased a third-period Penguins lead and won. (Side note: The Penguins were so furious, they won 15 of their next 16. They often referenced their disgust at losing that game and couldn’t wait for a rematch.)
“Being able to weather those surges, and endure those ups and downs through the course of the game is critically important to a team’s success,” Sullivan
Thus far, the Penguins ability to survive the storms has proven fruitful. So too has their ability to score in bunches when they don’t weather the storm. One of the two has to give. The Penguins can’t possibly continue to score bunches of goals in mere moments.
The Capitals aren’t done, yet. However, with each surge the Penguins pushback, the Capitals get closer to extinction.