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Penguins Emerging: Whatever Game You Want to Play, They Can Beat You



pittsburgh penguins, tristan jarry

The Pittsburgh Penguins won a playoff game Monday night.

In December.

Against an opponent they’ve never faced in the postseason. (Not in its current iteration, anyway.)

But make no mistake, the Penguins and Dallas offered up 60 minutes of playoff hockey in what became a 2-1 Penguins victory at PPG Paints Arena.

OK, so actually it wasn’t part of a best-of-seven series and the result will be recorded only in the regular-season standings, but that was a game worthy of any Stanley Cup matchup.

And while taking two points from a quality opponent — especially in such a dramatic way, on an Evgeni Malkin goal in the final minute of regulation — had to be satisfying, the most gratifying aspect might have been how the Penguins did it.

The way they played a game for which the Stars — a bigger, heavier club — are built, and did no worse than hold their own for most of the evening.

“Those are the type of games that you want to be able to win,” Tristan Jarry said. “That puts you in a good situation, knowing that you can come out on top in those games. It does nothing but help you, in the long run.”

Games that are wide-open, with lots of skating room and high-quality scoring chances, once were known as Firewagon Hockey. What the Penguins and Stars did was more like station wagon hockey.

Every square foot of ice was contested, treated as if it were more valuable than real estate in midtown Manhattan. The teams combined for more hits (68) than shots (53), and high-quality scoring chances were as rare as zebra-striped unicorns; credited each team with just five.

“Without a doubt, there was more of a playoff feel, in the sense that you had to fight for every inch,” Mike Sullivan said. “Both teams, I thought, defended really hard. We were trying to make it as hard on them as they were making it on us.”

It worked.

And when those rare opportunities to manufacture a goal did develop, Jarry and his Dallas counterpart, Jake Oettinger, almost invariably found a way to defuse it.

Everything about this game, except for the calendar, said this was playoff hockey.

And the Penguins proved again they are comfortable playing it. And, more importantly, that they can do it well.

Fact is, they have shown in recent weeks that they can adapt to whatever style of game an opponent tries to play, and routinely do it better.

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ six-game winning streak and 10-1-1 record in their past 12 games make that point rather emphatically.

They’ve scored four or more goals in seven of those games, and allowed one or fewer in six.

Try to trade goals with the Penguins, and you’re going to have to outdo the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Rickard Rakell, Bryan Rust, Jason Zucker and Malkin, among others. Good luck with that.

And if the opponent focuses on trying to get a score that makes World Cup soccer seems offense-crazed, the Penguins have shown they can match it, even if that style is not encoded in the franchise’s DNA.

They occasionally have lapses in the structure and discipline needed to play that way effectively, but picking up 28 of 34 possible points since pulling out of a 0-6-1 plunge through the standings proves that it hasn’t been happening very often.

Mind you, the Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t likely to continue surging up the standings the way they have for the past month. There are too many good teams, too much parity, in today’s NHL to sustain the kind of run they’ve been on lately indefinitely.

It’s pretty much a given that there will be a few more losing streaks in their future, too. Stretches of games when they are done in by fatigue or individual slumps or simply clubs that outplay them. It happens.

But the whole point of the regular season is to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the Penguins have demonstrated over the past month that they are worthy of getting there for the 17th spring in a row.

And that they’re fully capable of playing the kind of game that could allow them to stick around for more than one round, for a change.