In the end it worked out about as well for the Penguins as they could have imagined.
Six grinding games.
Six re-introductions to playoff hockey and all that it annually demands individually and collectively.
Six examples of the price that must be paid in the postseason and of the cost players and teams unwilling to pay it must endure.
It would have been easier had the Penguins beaten the Blue Jackets in four or five games. But the Penguins, likewise, may not have emerged as battle tested and as educated as they claimed to be after surviving Columbus in Game 6, 4-3, and after winning the series, four games to two.
“They showed everybody how desperate a hockey team can be,” defenseman Matt Niskanen told Dan Potash of ROOT Sports on the ice at Nationwide Arena regarding the Blue Jackets.
Added goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the locker room: “This team came hard at us for six games. I think they showed us how we have to play to win games.
“I think we did the last two games. We played very well, very hard and found ways to get the win.”
The Penguins had actually done that often enough to have deserved a “W” in Game 4, but that one got away due to “Fleury’s Folly.”
In the aftermath of the Penguins’ loss in overtime, the conclusions reached by the coaching staff included the following:
-The Penguins could have/should have won Game 4 and could have/should have been up three games to one in the series. But had that been the case it might not have been in the Penguins’ best interest in the long run because their play through the first four games against Columbus hadn’t consistently achieved and maintained the level that would be required to keep advancing in subsequent rounds.
-At 2-2 in the series and faced with a best-of-three to decide it, the Penguins’ position was less than secure. But to respond the way they would need to if they hoped to regain control and eventually win the series, the Penguins would have no choice but to elevate their level of play. And that, in turn, would forge a team better prepared to meet the challenges ahead.
It wasn’t that the Penguins were looking past the Blue Jackets; that was never an issue.
But the necessary discipline, desperation, urgency, resiliency and relentless dedication to detail were all traits that had to be acquired, particularly for a team as talented as the Penguins.
This was at least as much about mindset as it was matchups.
The Blue Jackets series, thus, can be looked upon as having provided the perfect postseason blueprint, particularly now that the Penguins have survived it and advanced to the second round.
“I thought we found our game a lot more the last two games, played the way we need to,” captain Sidney Crosby maintained. “We were on our toes.
“It’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to go out there and see it and to play that way. We did that here the last couple (games), that’s good. We have to build off of it. I think in the playoffs you have to get better as they go along. I think we did that here.”
Despite a few uncomfortable twists and turns, the Pens’ growth throughout the series was evident.
If you didn’t notice it’s either because your expectations were unrealistic to begin with or you just weren’t paying close enough attention.