Penguins primed for rematches versus Stanley Cup Playoffs opponents
Just before the puck dropped between the Penguins and Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena earlier this month, in between pregame light shows and country music guitar licks, the public address announcer asked a question of the frothing crowd.
“Are you ready for a rematch of the Stanley Cup Final?” he asked, channeling his inner Michael Buffer as best he could.
Generally speaking, the Penguins have been very ready for their playoff rematches over the last two seasons.
On Thursday night, Patric Hornqvist and Jake Guentzel scored second-period goals to lead the Penguins to a 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators in the first meeting between the teams since they faced off in last season's Eastern Conference finals.
In that situation — facing opponents in the regular season for the first time since vanquishing them in the previous year's playoffs — the Penguins are 6-1-0 since the start of the 2016-17 season.
Winger Tom Kuhnhackl said the Penguins usually notice a little more urgency when facing foes whose season they ended the previous spring.
“I think we would have the same mindset if we would lose in the playoffs to those teams,” he said.
Winger Bryan Rust, however, said it's not just the team seeking revenge that plays with an extra hop in its step. The Penguins get up for those games, too.
“I think from both sides there's a little bit of bad blood because of what's happened in the past,” Rust said. “We saw them a lot. We saw them a lot recently. I think that fuels the fire a little bit more for both sides.”
This season, the Penguins faced their first playoff rematch when they hosted the Predators on Oct. 7. Ryan Reaves had a goal and two fights as the Penguins earned a 4-0 win.
Four days later, Patric Hornqvist had a goal and an assist as the Penguins scored three power-play goals in a 3-2 victory at Washington.
Their last playoff rematch this season will come when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 21.
The only revenge-seeking team to beat the Penguins was the New York Rangers on Nov. 21 last season. Jake Guentzel scored a goal on his first shift in the NHL, but the Rangers scored five unanswered for a 5-2 victory.
Other than that, the Penguins knocked off Washington, 3-2, in a shootout on opening night, beat San Jose, 3-2, a week later and edged Tampa Bay 4-3 on Dec. 10 thanks to two goals apiece from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf said his team's motivation coming into Thursday's game wasn't necessarily revenge, but he admitted to a little extra adrenaline anyway.
“It's always good to be able to go against these top teams, measure yourself,” Phaneuf said. “We're very familiar with them with the series we had last year. With that familiarity, we knew what they're going to do. They know what we're going to do. It's all about your compete level, coming out and doing it.”
Coming off their victory in Ottawa, the Penguins will switch roles in the revenge-seeking business.
When they host the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night, they will be looking to avenge a brutal 10-1 loss at United Center in the second game of the season.
Kuhnhackl said the blowout loss has not been forgotten.
“I think everybody still has that game in our heads where we got spanked on the road,” he said.
Rust said the memory will provide some motivation.
“I think hockey players and professional athletes in general are really proud people,” he said. “Anytime you lose or lose in a big situation or lose by a lot of goals, I think that hurts your pride a little bit. Anytime you can try to get revenge for that, it's big.”