Resiliency? The Pittsburgh Penguins Know All About That

Gene J Puskar/Associated Press

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Win or lose, the storyline Tuesday night was always going to be Sidney Crosby’s 500th goal. The spotlight deserves to be on the franchise’s premier talent.  However, let’s peel back the layers of Tuesday's game and pretend his accomplishment was a mere footnote.  In a game where the Penguins fell behind to their hated cross-state rivals, they easily could’ve turtled and went quietly into the night.  

They didn’t get the sharpest performance from goaltender Casey DeSmith after two misleadingly good performances had fans believing in him again. But I must give credit where it’s due.  DeSmith had an ugly second period, but followed that up by blanking the Flyers on their seven 3rd period shots, including a couple of good looks late in the period while the Pens were killing a penalty.  It wasn’t a pretty performance but it was resilient.

Chad Ruhwedel came into this game playing some of the most solid hockey of his ever-so-solid career. He’s as defensively sound as any of the Pens’ top-six defensemen. He’s a huge reason why guys like Mark Friedman and Pierre-Olivier Joseph haven’t drawn into the lineup much at all.  

Finally, after 92 straight games, Ruhwedel was rewarded with a goal to break the scoreless drought and prove he could, in fact, chip in on the offensive end.  His last goal came before we really knew what COVID-19 was. Put that in perspective. December 20, 2019 against Edmonton was his last goal. That’s a long time. But he’s always been satisfied doing his job on the defensive end and commits to it on a nightly basis.

So when he comes from center ice and cuts down the slot while the Pens’ forwards are battling for a puck along the side boards in their offensive zone and gathers a pass from Danton Heinen and buries it behind Carter Hart, that’s resiliency.

If you’ve watched any Penguin hockey this season, you know that the team has trailed many times going into the third period.  While I don’t have the exact number in front of me, the AT&T Sportsnet intermission crew did mention that the Pens were able to get at least one point in 40% of the games that they trailed going into the third period this season. So on average, they’re gaining at least a point 4-out-of-10 times even when trailing in the last period. That’s a sign of resiliency.

Those types of comebacks and resilient efforts come when you have a head coach as special as Mike Sullivan. Sullivan continues to be the reason this team plays at such a level. He has the utmost respect from his players who buy into the message he’s trying to send. Maybe not on an every game basis but if they stray far enough away from the overarching theme, Sullivan reels everyone back in. That’s a pretty resilient bunch, eh?

The Penguins have always been a team that doesn’t often give up. It’s not in their DNA. Even when the Penguins entered the final period Tuesday night down 4-2 to the Flyers. Were they really going to allow Crosby’s 500th goal game to be a loss? Especially against the Flyers? It was never going to happen.

Guentzel scored at 12:36 of the third period on a power play and you could feel the shift. Then, 18 seconds later, Ruhwedel buried his long overdue goal at the most opportune of times. DeSmith suddenly rose up and so did the PPG Paints Arena crowd. What was a fairly dead crowd upon the two goal deficit suddenly woke up from the same funk that the Penguins were in.

The fans? Resilient.

To complete the comeback, Kris Letang carried the puck, in overtime, down the wing as Crosby trailed him for a 2-on-1. Ironically, a Penguin actually shot the puck on an odd-man rush and it found its way behind the goaltender just 31 seconds into the extra period.  Letang is now the owner of the most points in overtime by a defenseman in NHL history with 31. Not just his own franchise but the entire league’s history.

That wasn’t exactly resilient. But it was the perfect cap to a game that should’ve ended exactly how it did: with a cherry on top.

And how could I forget Brock McGinn?

McGinn has done an admirable job attempting to replace Brandon Tanev after the Penguins lost him in the offseason to Seattle in the expansion draft. He kills penalties. He scored a bit more than Tanev did. Above all, he plays with that same in-your-face tenacity that Tanev was known for.

McGinn blocked a shot in the third period that went off the inside of his hand and, based on his reaction, the immediate thought was that McGinn had done some real damage to the hand. It was one of those “Why him? Why now?” type of deals.

Instead, McGinn came back in and played the last portion of the third period. Tough as nails. I don’t want to overuse the “r”-word but that’s pretty darn resilient for him to come back in the fashion he did after the injury.

If the Penguins pull off the unthinkable and win Lord Stanley again this season, resiliency is one of the keywords when describing this team.  They never give up.  Plus, their star players constantly get beat up with nobody out there to stop it, but they just keep improving.

There’s a lot of hockey still yet to be played. But if I had to picture the rest of the season and into the playoffs, I’m not counting out the Penguins by any stretch of the imagination.  Purposeful or not, resiliency is a huge factor in the Penguins’ success that has carried on from game one and continues to even now.