The term ‘next man up’ has become such a tired cliché in sports. And yet for the Penguins this postseason, it’s become a necessity. Nobody on the ice Monday night wanted to be the ‘next man up’ in a game as important as that. Sure, for a young player not expected to get many minutes — or even dress for the game — getting a chance to play in the Eastern Conference final is an unexpected thrill. But the circumstances for the next man to step up have become, well, ridiculous.
The Pittsburgh Penguins shutout the Ottawa Senators 1-0 Monday night with their backup goalie, missing two key wingers and, for much of the game, probably their three best defensemen.
Pittsburgh played most of Game 2 with just 11 forwards and five defensemen and not only did they win, they allowed just 23 shots, 22 of which made it to Marc-Andre Fleury. None, again, went past him. Of all the wins this season, Monday’s may be the most remarkable, if only for who was left on the ice to celebrate.
Phil Kessel scored the game winner late in the third period to tie the series at one game apiece. Kessel said after the game, via NHL.com, he knows how much this group has been through this postseason.
“We’re a pretty resilient group, right?. We’ve been there before. We got guys that can step in and step up, and we found a way to get it done in the end tonight.”
Kessel’s game-winning tally was inexplicably huge for Pittsburgh, as going down 2-0 in a series after losing two games at home is nearly impossible to salvage. (Just ask Washington.) But the win means even more to Pittsburgh now, given just how many darn injuries they seem to keep getting.
The Penguins may still win this series, but first, they have to survive it.
Conor Sheary, who himself was concussed in the previous series, was angling toward being a healthy scratch before Patric Hornqvist was deemed unable to play during warmups. Sheary then was forced to move from the third line back up to the first after Bryan Rust had his head scrambled by a (legal) hit from Dion Phaneuf early in the game.
Technically, Rust left with an ‘undisclosed injury’ because the NHL decided long ago it cares more about gamesmanship than truthfulness. But, I mean, come on, we all have eyes.
Hornqvist, himself, was out with an ‘undisclosed injury’ the Penguins wouldn’t even discuss after the game, so he could either have a hangnail on his pinkie toe or he may have lost an eye and he was out being fitted with a bionic eye for the rest of the playoffs so he had to miss Game 2 because that’s the only time the local bionic eye doctor could see him.
Reports before the game indicated the Pens could also have been without Carl Hagelin, who did return for Game 2 after what head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters was “several minor injuries.” That had people suspecting he was benched, again, because the NHL would rather funnel out false information about player health and safety than in any way give the opponent a target to aim for on the ice. Hagelin saw 11:16 of ice time Monday, if only out of necessity.
Rust logged just 1:43 of ice time before being unable to continue, which was 2 minutes and 57 seconds less than Justin Schultz, who was knocked hard into the boards and skated off the ice in the first period as well.