Penguins clinch playoff spot with win over Islanders
NEW YORK — Dana Heinze, the Penguins’ head equipment manager, hustled around the dressing room after the team’s 5-0 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday at Barclays Center, trying to balance his usual obligations with the need to track down a trio of players and deliver their keepsake pucks.
Rookie Matt Murray, the Penguins’ top goaltender choice as Marc-Andre Fleury recovers from a concussion, needed one to commemorate his first NHL shutout.
Rookie Oskar Sundqvist, with just 14 NHL games in his career, deserved the puck he slipped past Islanders goalie Jean-Francois Berube as a symbol of the center’s first NHL goal.
And center Sidney Crosby, his prominence and star power heightened by the absence of Fleury and Evgeni Malkin (upper-body injury), was owed the rubber disc that represented his 600th career assist, a milestone reached by only two other players — Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr — in team history.
To celebrate the promise of those who are new to the team and the production of those who are proven was an activity the Penguins welcomed as they claimed their 11th win in 12 games and secured a playoff berth for the 10th straight season.
“I don’t think anyone expected to put as many together as we have here down the stretch, but we’ve worked hard, and we’ve earned it,” Crosby said. “We need to continue to play the same way. It’s gotten us success to this point.”
Murray, in just his ninth NHL game appearance, made 23 saves.
Sundqvist buried a short-handed breakaway chance after Berube and his defensemen combined for a glaring mistake as the Islanders regrouped in their own zone during a power play.
Offseason additions Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel each scored.
Cullen, rookie Tom Kuhnhackl and defenseman Justin Schultz, a mid-season trade acquisition, tied for the team lead with two points apiece.
“They sincerely get excited for one another when guys do well,” Sullivan said of his players. “And there’s a nice mix of veteran, established guys and young players. … You can see how the rest of our guys respond to that and rally around those guys. It’s really neat to see.”
Barely any of the notable names on the Penguins scoresheet experienced the manner in which the team limped into the playoffs a season ago, when it lost five straight before qualifying with a win over Buffalo in the regular-season finale. Recent playoff history might haunt Crosby and the team’s other core pieces, but for the Penguins’ many first-year members, it’s mostly a footnote.
“You have to be cognizant of what’s happened in the past, but I also think that when you look at the guys that were brought in, a lot were brought in to help turn a page and get to the next level,” Cullen said. “I think all of the guys that have been brought in have made a difference.
“For me, on the outside looking in when I signed late in the summer, you could see the moves that were made were to make a change now and make a push now. Obviously for an older guy like me, that’s exciting because I don’t have a lot of years left. But it’s nice to see when you have a management that’s committed to winning every year as opposed to targeting years down the road.”
For youngsters such as Murray and Sundqvist, there’s more than enough to process in the present.
Sundqvist, for example, figured out he beat Berube with a shot to the far post a few seconds after almost everyone else in the arena. And then he needed a little more time to process the sequence that actually set up his scoring chance — Berube collected a dump-in and quickly passed the puck up the center of the ice, unaware his defensemen had swung toward the boards to regroup.
“I jumped over the boards, and I actually just saw the puck laying there,” Sundqvist said. “After I while, I figured out it was probably the goalie who put it there. But I tried to use their D-men as a screen, and it went well this time. Actually, I didn’t really see it was a goal until maybe three seconds later.
“I thought he saved it. But I saw it laying behind him after a couple seconds.”
Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.