The Penguins opened the postseason by doing what they needed to do, which helped decide Game 1 against Columbus.
Their ability to do so more often and for more extended stretches might eventually prove defining in the postseason, one way or the other.
“I thought we got better as the game went along,” defenseman Matt Niskanen assessed of Wednesday night’s 4-3 victory at CONSOL Energy Center. “We seemed a little hesitant, a little shaky the first 30 minutes, maybe 25 minutes of the game. We made a few mistakes, they capitalized, we were down in the game and then we had a great response.
“We climbed back in it and I think our 5-on-5 game started to roll from there.”
Captain Sidney Cosby described the Pens’ demeanor throughout as “pretty patient.”
That had to be music to head coach Dan Bylsma’s ears.
He’s been preaching since the resumption of play following the Olympic break how critical it is that the Penguins maintain their poise and not force the issue in games that are tied or in games in which they’re down a goal.
They fell behind by two goals in agonizing fashion 43 seconds after the second period began on Wednesday night.
That seemed an appropriate time to panic.
Instead, the Pens responded with a pair of power-play goals in the next 1:36 to tie things up again at 3-3.
From there the Pens for the most part efficiently and effectively played their game for the next 25:59, until Brandon Sutter ultimately untied it.
And after that they pretty much closed the game out the way a game is supposed to be closed out in the postseason.
That’s significant for a team that hasn’t always been able to keep it together in such situations.
“I think we just get impatient at times, especially some of those games that will be low scoring, 0-0 or 1-0 going into third period,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “For whatever reason, that starts taking away from our defensive game. You start cheating on pucks, finding yourself on the wrong side of the puck a lot.”
Things usually degenerate when that happens.
Game 1 against the Blue Jackets was 3-3 early in the second period rather than 0-0 or 1-0, but the potential still existed at that juncture for the Pens to begin forcing the issue and making things worse than they already were.
Blysma’s message since late February, in part, has been that there’s nothing wrong with not being ahead at a given point in a game as long as individual and collective faith can be maintained that the Penguins will eventually be ahead when the game ends.
Trust yourself, trust your teammates, trust the system and trust the process.
That happened in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets.
The two quick power-play goals made it much easier for all of that to happen, but it happened nonetheless.
As a result, the Penguins might be less likely to rattle or become frustrated should Game 2 wind up becoming one of those 0-0 or 1-0 affairs Orpik referenced, the type of game in which the Penguins haven’t always been at their best.
“I felt like once it was 3-1 and we got those two, I felt like we had more chances in the second half,” of the game, Crosby stated. “It’s a little easier when you get two quickly like that on the power play, but beyond that we were still patient.”
That’s a beautiful thing to be in the postseason.