Prisuta: Pens have championship blueprint

| Thursday, May 28, 2009

They're headed back to the Stanley Cup final, but this time they won't arrive wide-eyed.

This time, the Penguins will be bringing with them the mindset of a defending champion.

No, the Penguins didn't win the Cup a year ago.

But since losing it, they've done what turned out to be the next best thing.

They've adopted the philosophy of the NHL's reigning champions, the Detroit Red Wings.

It's a philosophy shared by Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who not long ago shared a coach-player relationship in Anaheim.

It stresses going to the net and getting pucks on the net and repeating those two things as often as possible.

If you can do so with world-class talent, as the Red Wings and Penguins can, so much the better.

But getting to the net and getting shots on the net, preferably with traffic in front, matters much more than who's doing the driving, shooting or screening.

Recall what Babcock had to say about why he believes what he believes prior to last season's final against the Penguins:

"All those goals you score in November tic-tac-toeing the puck around you don't score at this time of the year. Guys are too buckled down and they're back-checking too hard and they're in the right spot too much (defensively).

"And the goalies are too good. I don't know if you've noticed the size of them, you can't even see the net. A lot of guys, you can't even score on them in practice, they're so good.

"So how are you going to score• Well, if you're not going to score on the first shot you have to score on the second shot. The only way to get a second shot is to shoot the first shot and someone be there for the second shot.

"To me, it's just doing the math."

Sound familiar?

Throw a "net-front presence" in there somewhere and the quote would just as easily be attributable to Bylsma any day since his arrival Feb. 15.

His Penguins have seemingly been true believers ever since a 5-0 road trip from Feb. 27 through March 8 apparently convinced them the new guy was onto something.

Their embracing of and devotion to Babcock/Bylsma Hockey brought them from the depths of disaster to the brink of a championship.

But in taking their final steps back to the Cup final, the Penguins established that they're also capable of improvising victory if need be.

One such method is to fall back upon a wrap-around, spin-around, top-shelf backhand when all else fails, as Evgeni Malkin did in Game 2 against the Hurricanes.

Another is to scrap and claw and find just enough opportunities in transition despite being outshot for the first time in the series (31-25), despite allowing a series-high four power-play opportunities, and even though Malkin and Sidney Crosby combine for one shot and no goals; all of that happened in Game 4.

Still, when they're at their best, these Penguins are more relentless than they are dramatic or resourceful.

The genius of their plan is its simplicity.

That's something the Penguins gained firsthand knowledge of a year ago against the Red Wings.

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