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Penguins' Dupuis earns teammates' respect with consistent play

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 10:54 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Pascal Dupuis.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Pascal Dupuis skates against the Senators on Tuesday, May 17, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Where Sidney Crosby has been the heart, Marc-Andre Fleury the soul and Brooks Orpik the conscience of the core of these Penguins, Pascal Dupuis doesn't have a label.

Just the respect of every player in their dressing room.

Perhaps none more so than their captain.

“For any player, for any teammate, you want a guy who's going to compete with you every night,” Crosby said. “We're really lucky to have a lot of those guys, but for Duper to go against the top pairings and look forward to that challenge … it brings out the best in him. His work ethic and willingness to learn has allowed him to play this well. Even at his age, he's continuing to get better, so I think that's all on his work ethic and dedication to getting better.”

Crosby needed a hat trick in Game 2 of the second-round series against Ottawa just to tie his linemate for the Stanley Cup playoffs goal-scoring lead, as Dupuis had six in the first seven games. The 34-year-old winger followed a 25-goal season in 2011-12 with 20 goals in the 48-game, lockout-shortened season this year, yet he refuses to call himself a goal scorer.

“They're going in right now, so I'll keep going to the cage,” Dupuis said with a shrug. “I'll keep playing with confidence. You can't ask for more than that. I'm really grateful that things are going great, but as long as the teams wins …

“It's not about me. It's about the team.”

Despite being the throw-in on the Marian Hossa trade in 2008, spending the next season in Penguins coach Dan Bylsma's doghouse and having a reputation as the winger most likely to be replaced with every ensuing trade, Dupuis has become a constant as a Crosby wingman. The Penguins have traded for James Neal and Jarome Iginla and flirted with signing Jaromir Jagr and Zach Parise, but No. 9 continues to line up with No. 87.

That has as much to with Dupuis' determination as it does his swift skating. His teammates appreciate the winger's work ethic, conditioning and, most of all, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Dupuis was the only Penguins player who attended every practice session during the lockout, and it's paying off this postseason.

What means the most to the Penguins is how Dupuis, a gritty grinder who is a fixture on the penalty kill, gets his goals. He has scored almost as many short-handed goals (15) — including one in the third period of Game 1 against the Senators on Tuesday — as he has on the power play (20) in his career, and he scored 17 even-strength goals this season.

“He's been one of the best even-strength goal scorers in the league for quite some time now, and his numbers stack right up there with the best names that we all talk about being great players,” Bylsma said. “He's been doing that for our team with Sidney Crosby, without Sidney Crosby, with a ton of different linemates and different spots for our team.

“It's all basically five-on-five hockey for Pascal. He's been very good in a lot of different areas. Now that he's right up there in the goal scoring in the playoffs, there's more talk about it.”

What Dupuis has overcome is motivational to his teammates, especially a young forward like Tyler Kennedy. They know that Dupuis went scoreless and was a healthy scratch for four games during the 2009 Stanley Cup championship run, when he was demoted to the fourth line, and are impressed by how he has persevered to climb back to the top line.

“It's great to see. He's played unbelievable the last two years. He's been a totally different player,” said Kennedy, scratched for the first four games of the first-round series against the New York Islanders only to return to the lineup and score the first goal of Game 5. “He's a huge scoring threat whenever he's on the ice. It's nice to see that he's really focused on that and made himself a better hockey player.

“He's been up and down through the lines the last couple years. He's shown he's willing to do anything to stay up there. That's a good team guy, a guy who wants to be better. That's pretty inspirational for a lot of guys to push yourself to be the best player you can.”

Deferential by nature, Dupuis has developed into a dangerous goal scorer by being “a little sponge” in studying not only the practice habits but also learning the lifestyles that make his star teammates so successful. Dupuis said he watches how Neal shoots the puck, how Evgeni Malkin holds onto it and uses his body as a shield, how Crosby skates and makes tight turns and, most of all, how the superstar center goes about his preparation.

“You try to evolve. You don't want to be a one-trick pony, be a guy who can do only one thing,” Dupuis said. “If that one thing doesn't work anymore in your career, they'll forget about you and bring in a young guy to fill the gap where you should be. ...

“Even though you're 34 and should be slowing down, I'm feeling great right now.”

Crosby's confidence in Dupuis has a lot to do with that.

“Trust me, when all this is over and I'm done playing hockey, he's probably the guy who believed in me the most,” Dupuis said. “When the best player in the game does that for you, it means a lot.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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