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Penguins insider: Martin steady force for sporadic Penguins in playoffs

| Thursday, April 24, 2014, 10:03 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Paul Martin carries the puck into the offensive zone past the Blue Jackets' Matt Calvert during the second period during Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series April 23, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.

Defenseman Paul Martin's future with the Penguins once was in doubt.

Now they can't imagine life without him.

Martin, two years removed from a soul-searching summer that triggered clear improvement in his play, arguably has been the Penguins' best player against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“He is very, very important to everything that we do,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.

Martin leads the Penguins — and the NHL — in postseason scoring with eight points. He leads the Penguins with a plus-5 rating and has played more minutes (27 minutes, 55 seconds per game) than any of his teammates. Only seven NHL players are playing more minutes per game this postseason.

Martin plays on the Penguins' top defensive pair with Brooks Orpik. The duo also represent the team's top penalty-killing pair.

Also, after some flip-flopping with Niskanen and defenseman Kris Letang, Martin has been placed on the Penguins' No. 1 power-play unit.

“I can't get him on the ice enough right now,” assistant coach Todd Reirden said.

The series has been a study in sporadic play and sudden momentum shifts. Martin's calm, efficient game has been welcomed by a Penguins team that hasn't always handled postseason adversity well.

“Paulie is playing at a very, very high level right now,” Reirden said.

Martin has been on the ice for eight of the Penguins' 14 goals against the Blue Jackets.

Had the Penguins emerged from Game 4 with a victory — goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's miscue in the final seconds led to Brandon Dubinsky's tying goal — Martin would have been one of the game's key figures. He received assists on the Penguins' first two goals and, while they feverishly were attempting to protect a 3-2 lead, made a number of plays to thwart Columbus rushes.

Martin and Orpik, in fact, enjoyed a strong shift in the game's final two minutes, prohibiting Columbus from entering the attacking zone. They were forced to make a change with less than a minute remaining and could only watch as Columbus tied the score.

Had a whistle stopped play during that sequence, the Penguins would have attempted to place Martin and Orpik back on the ice.

Since a rough opening game against the Blue Jackets — consider it a microcosm of his Penguins career — Martin has been nearly flawless.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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