PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Certainly, there were the obvious. There was Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray and Phil Kessel and Mike Sullivan and the whole lot of them — the guys who recognizably pushed the Penguins through the playoffs and to a Stanley Cup with a win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday night.
But there were some others, as well. Some other guys who probably didn’t get recognized enough for what they did.
Perhaps we should all take a minute to think about the efforts of …
Jacques Martin — After 30 years in the National Hockey League, the Penguins assistant coach finally got the chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. And he almost dropped it. Seriously, the 61-year-old fumbled it a bit as he went to push it over his head but regained a grip on it so as it didn’t crash to the ground. Good for him. And good for Mike Sullivan for recognizing Martin’s worth was on the bench and not high in the booth. When Sullivan was hired to replace Mike Johnston in mid-December, one of his first orders of business was to get Martin on his bench (he had been upstairs for Johnston) and working with the penalty kill. Martin also served as a guy with plenty of experience for Sullivan to lean on. The move proved wondrous.
Sergei Gonchar — From a guy who tried to make the Penguins at the beginning of the season to a guy who grew into his role as “defensemen development coach,” Gonchar was vital to the Pens’ success on the blue line — and by extension, their overall success. A tremendously intelligent man with an ability to communicate with the current players (who are pretty much his peers), Gonchar has to be lauded in part for the Penguins shot-blocking tactics in the postseason and their overall ability to keep the heavy heat off Matt Murray.
Andy Saucier — Would the Penguins have even reached the Stanley Cup Final without this man? Would they have got past Tampa? Would they be hoisting the cup without what Saucier did in Game 6 of the Tampa series? You could make a good case that they wouldn’t. The video coach for the team, Saucier alerted the bench that a Game 6 first period goal by Jonathan Drouin – to put Tampa up 1-0 — really wasn’t was goal, instead his replays showed that it was offside by the slimmest of margins because when Victor Hedman carried the puck into the zone, Drouin wasn’t onside. The spark that Tampa gained with the goal was gone when Mike Sullivan challenged the goal and won. All the electricity left the crowd and the momentum — which clearly had swayed to Tampa – shoved back over to Pittsburgh’s favor with the reversal. You know what happened from there. The Penguins won that game 5-2. Without Saucier’s keen eye though … who knows?
Ben Lovejoy — One can make a case that defenseman Ben Lovejoy has played some of the best hockey of his career over the past month or so. If not the very best, at least his best in the most important situations. When Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley was felled with an injury, the franchise needed someone to elevate their minutes and also be a stabilizing force in a defense that suddenly got a bit slower with Daley’s absence. Using his no-frills brand of controlling the middle of the ice and incessantly pushing the puck carrier to the outside of the rink, Lovejoy saw a spike in productivity with his play even as his minutes ballooned. They talk about veterans stepping up at key times. Ben Lovejoy did precisely that for these Penguins.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.