Penguins' Bennett provides spark in Game 1 blowout
In the moments before the puck dropped on the Stanley Cup playoffs at Consol Energy Center, powerful rays of sunshine slipped through the glass in the upper deck, illuminating the ice.
“Sunshine” did the same thing a few minutes later.
Rookie Beau Bennett, the California kid who some teammates refer to as “Sunshine,” lit up Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov with a wicked wrist shot that New York never recovered from in the Penguins' 5-0 victory.
Playing in his first playoff game, Bennett took the ice for the first time late on a Penguins' power play. He slipped down the right wing, then ripped a shot from the bottom of the circle that carried over Nabokov's left shoulder and pierced the netting inside the post.
“Not bad,” veteran defenseman Mark Eaton said of the young forward's postseason debut. “It was such a big goal for us. He got us going. I know he was excited to get into a playoff game, and he made the most of it.”
Bennett's goal triggered a Game 1 rout, and though the Penguins were smothering throughout the contest, the rookie stood out.
The Penguins' official Twitter feed mentioned moments before the game that Tyler Kennedy was starting on the fourth line instead of Bennett, setting the social media world into a frenzy. Then Bennett took the ice and made his presence felt immediately.
“He's been our next best power-play guy other than the guys in the top five,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He's a guy who has played well without the puck. He's earned trust in that regard.”
Bylsma explained Wednesday morning that Bennett's work earlier in the season and in training camp convinced the coaching staff that the 2011 first round pick was ready for a postseason role. He played more regularly late in the regular season and finished with the sixth-best points-per-game total among NHL rookies.
Through one postseason game, he appears to only be getting better.
“A lot of guys would be pretty nervous playing in their first playoff game,” said center Brandon Sutter, who, incidentally, was playing in his first playoff game. “But Beau is so relaxed, so calm. I think that helped him a lot.”
The shot on the game's first goal appeared to catch Nabokov by surprise. Bennett politely explained that there was nothing accidental or lucky about it.
“It's a shot I work on quite a bit,” he said.
It appears likely that Bennett will remain in the lineup for a quite a while. His talent on the fourth line is rare, and should James Neal or Jussi Jokinen's injuries prove series, he appears next in line to move up to a top-six role.
“The skill he adds to the fourth line was not only evident on the great goal, but was evident five-on-five as well with some of the shifts he's had,” Bylsma said.