Kovacevic: Are these Penguins serious?
It was Game 1, it's only the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and there are many, many more laps of the rink to go. But at least this much could be definitively discerned from the Penguins' 5-0 throwdown of the Islanders on Wednesday night:
These guys are fairly serious about this whole Cup thing, huh?
If your team is in the playoffs to live off skill and speed alone, you might see a power play that tinkers with tic-tac-toe passes.
Or you can simply set up Jarome Iginla for a patented Howitzer from the point that nearly knocks Evgeni Nabokov into oblivion, striking him in the upper part of the mask and felling him momentarily.
“Oh, those masks are pretty strong,” Iginla said with a grin. “But, yeah, I got it in the sweet spot, and what happened … that's part of the game.”
The guy at the other end?
“No sympathy,” Marc-Andre Fleury said. “I don't know if I should say that. … It does ring, sure. I had a few. When you get hit really hard, it rings your ears, and the straps on your mask pop off. But it's playoffs.”
If your team is in those playoffs to live off legitimate five-line depth, you might see a rookie's legs shaking with his first shift.
Or you can see baby-faced Beau Bennett — commendably inserted by Dan Bylsma — storm around the defense, size up Nabokov from a severe angle and whiz a shot — where else? — right by his head for the first goal.
Hey, if your keeper's hurt, take him out.
“I'm just looking for the shot, honestly,” Bennett said. “There was a little slot there, and I was fortunate enough to hit it.”
And those jitters?
“When I went out there, I was pretty amped up. But there was no time for that.”
If your team is in the playoffs to pace itself and cause the least amount of trouble, you might see everyone avoiding Nabokov or handling him with kid gloves.
Or you can watch Craig Adams virtually steamroller him to set up a Pascal Dupuis fourth-crack goal.
“Our guys played hard,” Dupuis said.
If your team is in the playoffs to live off its unrivaled firepower, you might see forwards cheating up ice on breakouts, turnovers at the blue lines and other selfish stupidity. Think Philadelphia, circa 2012.
Or you can watch Evgeni Malkin chip the puck off the glass much the way you'd expect from … oh, Tanner Glass.
“You just want to make the easy play, the sure play,” Mark Eaton said. “Stars, too.”
If your team is in the playoffs buoyed by having the best player in hockey replaced by the best player in hockey, you might look down your nose at the legit MVP candidate on the other side.
Or you can bury poor John Tavares at pretty much every turn, whether it's Matt Cooke sending him flying backward, Kris Letang flattening him with the left shoulder on a 50/50 puck or Brenden Morrow pile-driving him spark a late melee.
“That'll be a big part of this series,” Morrow said, thoroughly unapologetic. “We know what he can do. We can't let him.”
Tavares finished with zero shots.
And, oh yeah, if your team is in the playoffs with a cozy lead through one, a bigger lead early in the second, the Consol Energy Center din as loud as ever … well, you get it.
You pour it on.
You watch Glass score, for crying out loud.
You step on the head, or you just shoot at it and keep shooting, whichever works.
Well, not to be the downer, but I'll remind: This was Game 1.
Ray Shero and Bylsma have been pushing a theme of “4” for several months now, and that was formalized with the printing of “4” T-shirts the players were sporting after the morning skate.
A fourth Stanley Cup?
Nope. Just four wins. Enough for a series.
And after going down in the first two rounds to Montreal, Tampa Bay and Philly in the three springs since that third Cup, that seems not only like a healthy approach but a mandatory one.
These Islanders won't run and hide. Anyone who thinks they will wasn't paying attention to the NHL's seventh-highest scoring team and all that Tavares and mates — including some of the game's fastest wingers — were able to create. They're tough and resilient, and coach Jack Capuano immediately promised he'll test the depth, too: “Our 20 guys didn't get it done. But we'll be back.”
If your team is in the playoffs with truly serious intent, it'll be smart enough to grasp that.