So much for questioning the coach.
Not after Dan Bylsma’s fingerprints were all over the Penguins’ 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The decision to yank Marc-Andre Fleury may have been perceived by some as a relative no-brainer given Fleury’s follies against the Isles, but that was still a Stanley Cup-winning, $5 million-a-season goaltender Bylsma was benching.
Other lineup alterations appeared to be outright head-scratchers.
Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale hadn’t played all series.
And Simon Despres had hardly seen the ice in his lone appearance after potentially registering the fastest minus 2 in Penguins’ postseason history at the outset of Game 3.
Yet by the time the final foghorn sounded at CONSOL Energy Center on Thursday night Tomas Vokoun had pitched a shutout, Kennedy had scored a spectacular breakaway goal, Vitale had added energy and even drawn a penalty, and Despres had survived a most representative 14:10 of ice time, the last seconds of which were spent
providing net-front presence on a game-ending power play.
After a sluggish start, the new-look Penguins’ lineup stabilized and took Game 5 over with an outburst of three goals in 6:35 beginning at the 7:25 mark of the
And this time they finished.
The tinkering didn’t stop once the game started.
When the puck dropped to commence the second period Jarome Iginla was playing with Sidney Crosby and Pascal Dupuis rather than Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, and Chris Kunitz had moved from the Crosby line to the Malkin line.
Kennedy found himself promoted to the third line with Brandon Sutter and Matt Cooke (Kennedy’s game-opening goal was scored amid that threesome).
And Brenden Morrow dropped down to the fourth line with Vitale and Craig Adams.
And now it appears as if the Penguins are suddenly onto something.
Kunitz, Malkin and Neal “immediately showed a spark for us in the second period when we turned
to that,” Bylsma said.
Iginla, meanwhile, “didn’t take long to have some chemistry there with Dupuis and
Crosby,” Bylsma added.
In place of Jussi Jokinen and Tanner Glass, Bylsma said he received the spark, grit and speed he was looking for from Kennedy and Vitale.
Despres replaced Mark Eaton to add puck-moving ability and the skating ability to play against anyone the Islanders chose to throw at him.
As for Vokoun, staying strong on what Bylsma estimated to be “five good scoring chances” among the Islanders’ 14 first-period shots and again on a gorgeous look off the stick of John Tavares when it was 2-0 Pens in the second might have been series-saving contributions to the Penguins’ team effort.
Bylsma couldn’t have known his changes would be as effective as they turned out to be in Game 5.
But they never would have been had he not initially pulled the trigger.