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Prisuta: Bylsma earns his stripes before Game 5

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By Mike Prisuta
Friday, April 24, 2009

Welcome to the NHL, Dan Bylsma.

His Penguins remain locked in an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Philadelphia Flyers, who staved off elimination with a 3-0 victory Thursday night at Mellon Arena.

But Bylsma arrived as the man in charge hours before the puck dropped for Game 5 when he announced yesterday morning he was benching forward Petr Sykora.

"It's a decision the coach gets to make," Bylsma said.

Bylsma hasn't had a more difficult one since taking over as the Penguins' coach on an interim basis Feb. 15.

That he was willing to make it suggests the "interim" tag need no longer apply.

"It's a difficult situation," Bylsma said. "We made the decision about Petr (Thursday) and (Wednesday) and with the coaches. But you make those decisions in every game. We're talking about this one because Petr was in and is coming out (of the lineup). But we haven't played Miro Satan. We haven't played Philippe Boucher. And those are decisions we make, as well."

That was true prior to Game 5, before Satan and Boucher returned.

But Satan and Boucher aren't revered figures in the Penguins' dressing room, as Sykora remains.

And Satan and Boucher aren't former teammates of Bylsma, as Sykora was in Anaheim.

Based on the severe and prolonged deterioration of his game, Sykora had to be relieved of his duties, at least temporarily. Based on all of the emotional and intangible complications of the situation, Bylsma was in about as difficult a position as imaginable for a guy who had coached all of 29 NHL games, all on an interim bases.

He responded by following his gut and his heart and his instincts. He responded by doing what he was convinced had to be done.

Any move at this point was destined to subject Bylsma to potential criticism.

The Penguins, after all, were up three games to one, and they were coming off a victory in Game 4. But rather than adhere to some outdated tradition or superstition governing the wisdom of messing with a winning combination or chemistry, Bylsma coached the series and the upcoming game.

The Penguins may have been ahead three games to one, but they were clinging to that three-games-to-one lead. Their level of play had degenerated from Game 1 through Game 4 and they were badly in need of a spark.

The lineup changes couldn't prevent the Flyers from extending the series to a sixth game Saturday in Philadelphia.

But Bylsma deserves no less credit for sticking out his neck.

In doing so, he proved he's about so much more than creating a positive environment, relying upon catchy sound bites such as "net-front presence," and re-inventing the Penguins' vocabulary ("morning skates" are now "game-day preparation" in the Gospel according to Bylsma).

All of that stuff had a significant effect on getting the Penguins from Feb. 15 to here.

But if you're going to be in it for the long haul, you have to make the tough calls, even at the expense of a team leader and a former teammate.

"The coach has to make those decisions," Bylsma said. "They're not easy ones, but I'm the guy who gets to make them."

He's earned the right to continue doing so without the "interim" designation.



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