Maatta, Penguins defense breathes life into team's offense
Of the Penguins who lingered in the dressing room after their 3-2 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, arguably none tended to use profanity less than Olli Maatta, the baby-faced 22-year-old defenseman with the well-earned reputation for maturity.
Through the good and the bad of his own career and the Penguins season, Maatta has maintained an even-keel, family friendly vocabulary.
But the defenseman chose to use a term synonymous with peeved to describe his likely mentality if he had missed a prime scoring chance with less than a minute left in the opening period against Ottawa on Friday at Canadian Tire Centre.
"I saw a lot of netting there, so I would've been pretty (irritated) if I missed it," he said.
For the first time in the series, if not the playoffs, the Penguins' defensemen headed to the team bus certain they made a marked difference on the scoresheet. So often in the postseason, they concentrated their efforts on duties in their own zone. But the Penguins, in need of scoring from stars and secondary contributors alike, found saving graces in the form of Maatta, who scored his first career playoff goal, and Brian Dumoulin, who needed the game-winner and his second tally of the season when he banked a point shot off of Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf's skate midway through the second period.
That productivity largely came from just five defensemen, as Chad Ruhwedel suffered a concussion late in the opening period after absorbing a hit to the head from Bobby Ryan.
"I thought our defensemen did as good a job as we've seen in this playoffs (Friday) along that offensive blue line, just becoming an option, making good decisions with the puck, helping us to sustain the offensive attack," coach Mike Sullivan said. "That's going to be an important component of our game moving forward."
Maatta recognized his chance to strike when he watched Sidney Crosby start a counterattack near Ottawa's defensive zone. He collected a pass and fired while racing down the left wing.
"I saw the opportunity to get up the ice," Maatta said. "When the puck goes to Sid, you obviously always want to be skating because he can make those plays. So it was a great play by Sid. I saw something there and put it on the net."
Dumoulin sought little to no credit for the good luck on his goal but viewed it as a satisfying plot twist.
"It felt good to be on the other end of those," Dumoulin said. "It's a fortunate bounce. I forgot who came out in the lane, but he did a good job. I was just trying to put a puck back door and hope for some luck."
Tasked with splitting minutes five ways for a second time in four games — Justin Schultz missed most of Game 2 with an upper-body injury — the Penguins defensemen refused to pity themselves. If anything, they wanted to get even more involved with the goal-scoring party. But those around the defensemen barely detected a difference in the mood of the corps after the bad news of Ruhwedel's injury and the better news of Maatta and Dumoulin's goals.
"Our defense corps is a quiet group," Sullivan said. "They just go about their business. We have plenty of vocal guys at the forward position, so there's only so much air time to go around, whether it be on the bench or in the locker room. But these guys just quietly go about their business."
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.