Pittsburgh Penguins: Key Players Have Stepped Up


After going down in the series to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Pittsburgh Penguins really needed their key players to step up. The big names did just that in a game six win.

This is it, folks. Game seven of the Eastern Conference Final is tonight. And what a ride it’s been to get here.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been renowned for the depth this season, especially their forward corps. Despite having some of the best players in the world, every one of the four lines has been producing and surging at different times to help the team. However, the big names really stepped up in game six to avoid elimination, and they’ll have to do that again tonight more than anything else.

Guarantees are nice, and it’s kind of reassuring to hear guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin say that they’ll bring back a win and crush the Tampa Bay Lightning. I am all about that kind of confidence… as long as they don’t get too overly confident with it. Not that I expect that to happen, really, but the Pens have given up a few leads to the Bolts this series when they let off the gas a little bit, and that just can’t happen tonight.

Yesterday I asked you guys, the Pittsburgh fans, about who you felt stepped up most in game six. Admittedly there’s some confirmation bias there, because there were limited options to answer, but we’re mostly in agreement. Take a look:

Crosby has picked up three game-winning goals in this series… that is, every single game we’ve won. No big deal, just another day at the office for Captain Clutch. He struggled a bit against the Washington Capitals, but he’s more than rebounded in this series.

Meanwhile, Malkin finally broke his scoring drought, albeit in a losing effort. Now that he’s gotten his groove back, he’s been pretty good. He’s still a little dangerous with the turnovers, but Geno’s back up to where he should be in playmaking and shooting chances.

Again, though, these are two of the best players in the world. A slump to them is a hot streak for nearly anyone else in the league. The Penguins are undoubtedly lucky to have these two.

The second question focused less on those star players who are expected most to carry the team and more on the young guys who have had surprisingly large impacts in this postseason. Bryan Rust picked up a beauty of a breakaway goal in game six, and had a lot of good chances in game five – including assisting on Brian Dumoulin‘s goal.

Meanwhile, Olli Maatta has impressed since his return to the lineup. He’s skating better and making smarter plays, just generally having better puck control. He picked up three assists in two contests and looked a lot more confident. This is the Maatta we expected and needed to see earlier. 

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As for the third choice on that poll… Matt Murray‘s no longer surprising, in my opinion. He’s consistently strong in net and after getting a one-game break in game five, he’s back up to par and ready to go. He’ll be in the crease tonight for his first NHL game seven appearance, just a day after his 22nd birthday – no pressure or anything.

The great thing about having such a deep lineup is that everyone is competing for a spot. When you’re given a chance to slot in, you have to play the best hockey of your career so you don’t lose out. That’s definitely what we’ve seen with Maatta and Justin Schultz, as well as several more of the newer/younger players.

Even with big names like Crosby and Malkin and Phil Kessel headlining the team, we wouldn’t have gotten this far without our depth players. So while you should expect those stars to step up again tonight and do their best to lead their team to victory, don’t count the little guys out.

The puck drops on game seven at 8 ET.