In the end it was more about mindset than match-ups, more about playing the game than retaliating, more about being focused than being physical.
In the end, it was over in five.
Not that there was anything easy about the Penguins’ five-game elimination of the Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, particularly as it related to Thursday night’s 5-2, series-clinching victory in Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins were hanging on at times.
This one left a mark.
This series left a lot of them.
But through it all, the Penguins endured.
They never lost faith in The Gospel According to Sullivan.
After the revelations of last season, how could they?
Head coach Mike Sullivan has been preaching since his arrival and the Penguins have seen the light.
Sullivan didn’t stop last season until a Stanley Cup had been won.
He wasn’t about to stop as the Penguins commenced their postseason pursuit of another Cup in the first round against Columbus:
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
“It’s hard to score your way through the playoffs. You have to play the game the right way. You have to defend. You have to make good decisions. You have to be hard to play against.”
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
“You have to stay on the right side of people. You have to have some depth to your attack. You have to re-load on the 50-50 battles. If you don’t pay attention to those details, then you’re going to give up odd-man rushes or high-quality chances.”
BREAKOUT WITH EFFICIENCY
“Our ability to be able to come out of our end zone effectively is important for us. It’s a collective effort. It’s not just the defensemen, it’s a five-man cooperative effort that quite honestly starts in the neutral zone. That’s going to be an important aspect of our game.”
TAKE WHAT THE GAME GIVES
“We have the ability to be a quick-strike team so I think patience is going to be important for us. We’ve gotta make the plays when they’re there to be made and when they’re not we have to make simple plays. If we’re under pressure, we might have to use the glass. We might have to put the puck in the neutral zone and wait for our next shift. Patience is going to be important for us.”
PLAY BETWEEN THE WHISTLES
“We can’t win the game after the whistle. Our team is at its best when we play between whistles and we play hard. We’ll just keep playing the game that we’re trying to play.”
FOLLOW THE LEADERS
“The resilience or the resolve that this group shows is part of the fabric of our identity. And it has to be in order to have success in this league and win at this time of year. I give so much credit to our core guys that lead the charge there. There’s no panic, we just keep playing the game, ‘drop the puck, let’s play.’ That filters down through our dressing room or through our bench. These guys have a certain mindset that I think is contagious among the group. It starts with Sid (Crosby) but it doesn’t just end there, I think it goes down the group. Our older guys, our veteran guys, these guys are great people, character guys. They get it, they really get it.”
The rest isn’t just details, far from it.
But the stars didn’t shine this brightly between 2009 and last postseason.
Everything changed once Sullivan’s foundation was willed into place.
And now the Penguins are winning the type of series that used to overwhelm them the moment the going got tough.
“It wasn’t perfect out there by any stretch,” Sullivan said after the Penguins had survived and advanced past the Blue Jackets. “But we love the compete level, the resilience, the way they respond.
“We believe we have a lot of character.”
That’s going to make the Penguins a very tough out, again.