Tim Benz: It's not just that the Penguins won Game 3. It's how they did it.

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

May 21—Not only did the Penguins need to win that game, they needed to win that game that way.

They needed to win a game where they had to score a lot to do it.

They needed to win a game where the offense carried the day. They needed to win a game where they lit the lamp one more time than the other team, even if the other team did it a bunch, too.

Because that hasn't happened for a long time in the playoffs for these Penguins.

In outgunning the New York Islanders 5-4 during a wild Game 3 affair Thursday night, the Penguins seized a 2-1 series lead in the opening round of the playoffs. They also may have jump-started an offense that often puts up big numbers in the regular season but has gone dry in recent playoff campaigns.

The five-goal explosion — and I'm not using that term lightly by recent Penguins postseason standards — was the first time the Pens have exceeded three goals in a playoff game since April 22, 2018.

That was Game 6 of the 2018 first-round series when they eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in an 8-5 fireworks show.

"It's the identity of our team," forward Brandon Tanev said after the win. "We have great depth. We have shown that throughout the season. But it's playoff hockey now."

Unfortunately for the Penguins, since they won their fifth Stanley Cup in 2017, the scoring depth that has been present on the roster has rarely produced at a necessary level once the calendar flips to the postseason.

In the 16 playoff games between that night and Thursday's victory on Long Island, the Penguins totaled just 33 goals, for an average of 2.06 per game. And in none of those games did they score more than three times.

For a rare glimpse in recent postseasons, Mike Sullivan's team finally looked like the uber-offensively talented team it often is in the regular season. As was the case this year when the Penguins' 3.45 goals per game average led the East Division and trailed only the Colorado Avalanche in the entire NHL.

Granted, goal scoring gets far more difficult in the playoffs. Even when the Pens won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017, they only averaged 3.04 and 3.08 goals per game respectively.

But those modest numbers are each still roughly a full goal per game better than what has been the case since they began their three-series losing streak against the Washington Capitals after eliminating the Flyers in that 2018 postseason.

And when the Pens needed to pour on goals in those two Cup runs, they did. They scored four goals or more six times in 2016. They did so nine times in 2017.

Thankfully, the Penguins bucked that trend Thursday by blowing through that magical four-goal ceiling and getting all the way up to five. Because the Islanders were able to beat goaltender Tristan Jarry four times themselves.

"It's fun to see that every line can contribute offensively," defenseman Kris Letang said. "That's always a big question mark going into the playoffs. 'Can you roll four lines and be productive?' Tonight, it was nice to see that every line contributed."

Letang scored the game's first goal. Tanev had the game-winner in the third. Jason Zucker scored once in between. Jeff Carter did so twice. The Penguins scored at even strength. And one of Carter's goals was even on the power play, the first of the series for the Penguins.

"It's nice to see the puck going in the net," Carter said. "We don't want to have to put up five every night to win. But we'll take it tonight."

Carter is right. Defense was a concern at times. Jarry has now allowed four goals in two of the three games of this series. The Penguins got involved in way too many post-whistle scrums. And I'm still not sure what was going on with John Marino and his helmet.

All those things will be scrutinized a ton between now and Saturday's Game 4. But I'm keeping the analysis of this one simple.

The Penguins needed to score a fistful to win a playoff game, and they did.

It's been so long since that happened, I forgot what it looked like. I'll worry about them winning a 2-1 kind of game again sometime down the road.

Say, maybe, around 2:59 p.m. Saturday afternoon?

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.