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New Penguins Goc, Stempniak could write legacies in series finale

| Monday, May 12, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

During their first few weeks as “the new guys” on the Penguins, Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc spent plenty of time together.

“For that first month, we drove every day back and forth to the airport or to the rink,” Stempniak said.

If one of them scores a big goal or otherwise becomes the No. 1 star Tuesday, he'll have forever driven himself into Penguins lore. A Game 7 moment can have that kind of effect on an any player's legacy.

As two-thirds of the Penguins' most frequent third line this postseason, will Goc or Stempniak transform his Pittsburgh legacy from footnote to forever?

Scheduled for unrestricted free agency July 1, Stempniak and Goc might have very brief Penguins tenures. If the Penguins lose Game 7 of their second-round series Tuesday against the New York Rangers, they'll be largely forgettable ones.

Score the winning goal Tuesday, though? Fans will be saying his name for years to come.

“There's going to be a story about a win in a series: The winner writes the story,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Among storylines this postseason has been Bylsma's preference to play former NHL MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line. Pairing up Crosby and Malkin wouldn't be possible without depth throughout the forward lines.

The puck-possessing play of a line of Goc, Stempniak and Beau Bennett is one reason Bylsma has felt comfortable playing his superstar centers together. They are a grouping that defies the late-season consternation surrounding the Penguins' bottom six forwards.

Goc, Stempniak and Bennett, when put together, have alleviated the Penguins' third-line concerns. Each was, in effect, a newcomer to the roster. Goc and Stempniak arrived in March 5 trades. When Bennett returned from a broken wrist March 28, he'd been out more than four months.

“Obviously when you get to a new team, you've got to adjust to a new team and a new system,” Goc said. “It's been easy with all three of us coming together. If we do our job on the defensive side of the puck, then we're going to get our opportunities.”

Bennett, 22, has scored during the playoff opener each of the past two seasons but has no other NHL postseason goals. Stempniak has scored his first two career playoff goals this spring.

Goc has five in his career — the most recent tied the game for Florida with 3:28 left in Game 7 of a first-round series against New Jersey two years ago. He became a Panthers hero ... for 7 minutes, 15 seconds of game time.

The Devils' Adam Henrique scored 3:47 into overtime. Henrique also often is used in a checking-line role. So two guys more known for their defensive work traded moments on a Game 7 scoresheet.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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