If the Pittsburgh Penguins had lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round, Dan Bylsma may have been gone. Failure doesn’t go over well in Pittsburgh, and it would have been Bylsma who was shown the door. They say that players play and coaches coach, but Bylsma is the type of person who takes full responsibility when his team doesn’t perform.
With his job on the line, Bylsma has made the proper adjustments and the Penguins are now one victory away from a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Throughout the entire season, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin only played on the same line in certain situations. If there was one shift left in the period and both were fresh, he would put them together. If the Pens needed a goal late in the third period, he would put them together. But they had never played a full game on the same line.
Well, until now. After his performance in the first round, Bylsma had the faith in Brandon Sutter to center the second line, which allowed him to place Crosby and Malkin on the same line with Chris Kunitz. Three Olympians, three All-Stars, three of the best forwards in the NHL all on the same line.
The New York Rangers, who were ranked fourth in goals against in the regular season, don’t have an answer when that combination is on the ice. Marc Staal looked frustrated, Dan Girardi couldn’t keep up with the pace and Ryan McDonagh couldn’t give any support.
The Kunitz-Crosby-Malkin combination ended up with two of the Penguins’ four goals on Wednesday night, but more importantly they were stellar in the defensive zone. After a minus-three performance in Game 1, which was a Penguins loss, Crosby was plus-two in Game 4.
After Pascal Dupuis was lost for the rest of the season, Bylsma has tried everything to get the most production possible out of his top line. He tried Beau Bennett, he tried Lee Stempniak but he has finally found the way his offense can be the most deadly.
Give guys like Sutter, Joe Vitale and Craig Adams credit, though. Without them, the Penguins wouldn’t have the offensive depth that allows Bylsma to put Malkin and Crosby on the same line, but now that he does, they’re as scary as ever up front.
Brian Gibbons has been a spark plug, Sutter has arguably been the Penguins’ best player throughout the postseason and Marc-Andre Fleury has only given up two goals in the last three games, but Bylsma has been the difference. At one point, the Penguins were in a best-of-three series with the Blue Jackets. Just over a week later, that same team is one win away from a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.