Sid -- and the kids -- led the way for the calm, collected Penguins

ByScott Burnside via ESPN logo
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- If Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals was played at breakneck speed, the postgame vibe in thePittsburgh Penguins' locker room was decidedly slo-mo.

Calm. Businesslike. Nobody running around high-fiving anyone else.

No loud celebratory music in spite of Pittsburgh's dramatic, 3-2 series-opening victory over the San Jose Sharks.

It's the same kind of juxtaposition the Penguins have showed throughout their long playoff run: Skate like crazy for 60 minutes -- or however long it takes -- then stop, regroup and move on.

In the wake of the victory Monday night, there was nothing in that locker room to suggest that this night was any different -- even though it brought the Penguins to within three wins of a Stanley Cup championship.

Veteran Chris Kunitz perhaps put it best.

"This moment was not bigger than our team," said Kunitz, who won a Stanley Cup with the core of this group in 2009 and who added an assist on the first goal of the game by rookie Bryan Rust.

The Penguins outshot San Jose 41-26 and 33-13 in the first and third periods combined. It marked the 10th consecutive game in which they have outshot their opponent.

Pittsburgh has won three consecutive games, and there is a certain sameness to those wins -- games marked by long periods of control and dominance while their opponents seemed to have little answer for the Pens' speed and skill.

"I don't want any of us here to get too far ahead of ourselves," said veteran Matt Cullen, who moved from his normal fourth-line duties to play with Evgeni Malkin and Kunitz after Rust was knocked out of the game early in the third period by a hit by Sharks forward Patrick Marleau. "It's one win; that's all it is. But it was a good performance for us. I thought guys handled the amplified spotlight that the Stanley Cup finals bring."

It wasn't just guys like Cullen and Kunitz -- who have won championships and understand this part of the road, the final stretch -- who showed the ability to handle that pressure without giving in to it, but seemingly everyone in the Penguins lineup.

Pittsburgh opened the scoring with goals by two rookies, Rust and Conor Sheary. It was only the second time in NHL history that has happened, and the first time was in 1924.

With defenseman Trevor Daley out for the season because of a broken ankle -- and with the speedy Sharks hoping to exploit the Penguins' depleted, youthful defenders --Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz continued to impress with their poise, limiting the Sharks to 26 shots in total and just nine shots in the third period.

Maybe it was understandable, given that San Jose has never been to the Cup finals, but in the opening scenes of this drama it was the Sharks who appeared to have a bit of stage fright.

"We got the, 'Holy s---, we're here,' I think," said Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, who added two more assists in Game 1 as his team battled back from an atrocious first period to tie the score in the second period before Nick Bonino put the game away late in the third period.

"It was the first time you make it to the Stanley Cup finals, you dream about it for a long time," Burns said. "You probably used more energy the last couple days thinking about it than playing in a game. I sure felt it in the warmup."

The Sharks will no doubt be better in Game 2 on Wednesday night.

The Penguins are no doubt prepared for that, too.

Pittsburgh has twice opened a series with a win this spring and has lost the other two openers. It doesn't seem to matter one way or another. The Penguins just keep coming in waves.

"We didn't want to go into this series with a wait-and-see attitude," said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.

As has been the case in these playoffs, the high-tempo tone was directed by Penguins captainSidney Crosby. He made a splendid pass on the Sheary goal and was again a force, a reminder that he might be playing the best playoff hockey of his career.

"You could see his hunger to win," Sullivan said. "He's inspiring. I thought he was a force out there all night."

Crosby played 20:40, the most of any forward on either team.

He said he was pleased at the way his team responded to the buildup.

"I think that we just did a really good job of not trying to feel the game out, especially early," Crosby said.

When the game is played at this pace, it's inevitable teams will get chances. The Penguins are OK with that. They've been playing that way all spring. It's fun to watch, even if it might be a nerve-wracking to be a player in those kind of games.

"Yeah, considering the situation, you've got to be sharp," Crosby said. "You can't hesitate; you can't have a misstep where somebody loses an edge or you're not quite on your guy. There's so much speed out there, they're going to get a chance. I think everyone felt it out there tonight, that it was another level, as is to be expected here."

Interesting that it was the Penguins who seemed to find that extra level to their liking. Interesting but not surprising.