Jokinen's veteran presence pays off for Penguins
NEW YORK — Stanley Cup playoff runs are synonymous with unsung heroes.
Jussi Jokinen is taking his turn.
The veteran forward, a solid contributor since being acquired last April, is playing a starring role this spring.
Jokinen and the Penguins can advance to the Eastern Conference final for a second consecutive season Friday at Consol Energy Center with a victory in Game 5 over the New York Rangers.
“I don't even know what to say about him anymore,” defenseman Olli Maatta said of Jokinen. “It seems like every shot he takes, it goes in. When you're hot, you're hot.”
Jokinen is tied with the Kings' Marian Gaborik for the NHL lead with six postseason goals. Jokinen's three game-winning goals are tied with Chicago's Jonathan Toews for the playoff lead.
While star forwards such as Sidney Crosby (one goal) and James Neal (one goal) have struggled to find their scoring touch during the first three weeks of the postseason, Jokinen's play has helped the Penguins offense remain dangerous.
They are averaging a very healthy 3.2 goals per game in the playoffs despite playing two former Vezina Award-winning goalies in Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky and the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist. Montreal is the only Eastern Conference team scoring more goals per game than the Penguins during the playoffs.
Jokinen is a big reason for his team's success.
He acknowledged following another game-winning goal at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday that he enjoys playing in high-pressure games.
“I really do love this time of year,” said Jokinen, a standout in the Sochi Olympics. “I think every guy does. This is the best time of year. I've done my work in the summer and during the regular season. Now it's time to play the most important of games. I'm really enjoying it.”
The most stunning aspect of Jokinen's goal-scoring binge regards his surroundings. He scored 21 goals in the regular season, a perfectly respectable number, but was aided by playing on a line with center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Neal.
Skating with a center of Malkin's playmaking capabilities will benefit a wing more times than not.
These playoffs, however, largely have seen Jokinen play on a line with center Brandon Sutter and Neal. Sutter is enjoying a strong postseason but doesn't possess Malkin's playmaking skill.
It doesn't matter as Jokinen continues to score at a rapid rate. He has produced a point in eight straight games and nine of 10 postseason games. Jokinen has a goal in three straight games.
“I really do think,” Jokinen said, “that this is some of the best hockey I've ever played. I've felt good all season. My body feels good. And I have a lot of confidence now, and I like being on the ice with good players.”
Jokinen hasn't been perfect. In fact, a couple of missed assignments defensively have led to goals for the Blue Jackets and Rangers.
His defensive miscue triggered a series of plays that resulted in Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert's overtime-winner in Game 2 of the opening round.
His overall body of work, though, has been strong. And his goal-scoring prowess has never appeared so high.
“He's obviously coming up big for us at the right moments,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He's just so smart. That's the thing about him. He's got the right kind of skill to play with the guys we've got. He's so responsible with the puck. He just understand the right way to play the game.”
Jokinen is an unrestricted free agent this summer and might be pricing out of Pittsburgh.
He certainly cashing in this postseason.
“He's one of those guys that if you are looking for a big goal or a game-winning goal,” coach Dan Bylsma said, “you would want to pick.”
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