Penguins need several players to step up during playoffs
Superstars don't take over and role players can't contribute if not for the guys who step up when needed during a playoff run. The Penguins need big things from a maligned third liner and two Olympians.
He is probably not in the best of places.
Brandon Sutter began this season with two new wingers and ended up playing with nearly 20. He nearly was traded then demoted. Finally, on Sunday, he was scratched for the first time in 308 games — and he was not injured.
At least Sutter can put all of that behind him.
Most often compared to the third-line center he replaced (Jordan Staal), Sutter will need a Staal-like (circa 2009) postseason if the Penguins are to win the Stanley Cup.
Sutter, with 12 career game-winning goals, might have that kind of run in him, too.
Staal did not score a lot of goals during the 2009 Cup run. He had only four but two of the biggest in home wins that evened the Final against Detroit. Staal's timing was perfect, but he also was uniquely positioned for the hero role because the Red Wings had committed their best defensive assignments to Penguins lines centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Opponents will do that again this postseason, leaving Sutter's third line with chances to swing games, if not entire series.
Sutter is among the most well-liked players on the Penguins. He also is set for restricted free agency, so his future with the franchise could depend on his contribution in the postseason.
For everything he did for the Penguins, it was the 2009 playoffs that made Staal a star. The team has been waiting for it from Sutter since acquiring him in the deal that sent Staal to Carolina in June 2012.
He had a transformational season by becoming an Olympian and 30-goal scorer.
Kunitz is more than Sidney Crosby's winger. He also is perhaps the only big scorer among Penguins who can impact a series without, well, scoring.
Kunitz fueled the 2009 Cup run by winning puck races and punishing opposing defensemen. That would do this postseason — though some goals would help, too.
His 34 points during the 2009 playoffs are the most by any NHL player since Colorado's Joe Sakic hit that total in 1996.
Indeed, Malkin was that dominant when the Penguins last won the Cup. It was the last time he owned the big stage.
Since winning the playoff MVP five years ago, Malkin's clubs have come up empty in three postseasons and at two Olympics.