Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets can't make the save on Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on April 14, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
To say Jake Guentzel has a history of performing in the postseason is to shortchange the Penguins' rookie winger, something opponents are learning is a monumental mistake.
Guentzel has starred in the playoffs at every level he's played, so it was only a matter of time before he did so in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Guentzel is proving that timing is everything, this time by setting up Sidney Crosby for the first goal and one-timing a pass from the captain for the winner in a 4-1 victory over Columbus in Game 2 of their first-round series Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.
“It's something you dream about,” Guentzel said. “Obviously, it was a pretty big goal so it was special.”
Guentzel has been a special addition to the Penguins since his mid-January recall from Wilkes Barre-Scranton, proving to be a natural fit on the first line with Crosby and Conor Sheary.
The trio might be undersized by NHL standards, but their speed has proven overwhelming for opponents.
Sheary showed just how dangerous when he sped to the boards and stole the puck from Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Sheary spun and slid a backhand pass to Guentzel, who had beaten Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad down ice.
The puck went from the blade of his right skate to his stick, and Guentzel made what Crosby called “a good, heads-up play” to slip him a backdoor pass on the right side for an open-net shot just before being dumped over Bobrovsky by Saad.
The result was Crosby's 50th career playoff goal, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 8:31 of the first period.
“It is a great play, and I think he works on that all the time,” Sheary said of Guentzel. “In practice, you work on those kind of things, and Jake has the skill to do that. He made a great play, and Sid buried the open net.”
It was Guentzel's first NHL playoff point, but it wouldn't be his last.
That should come as no surprise, considering his career. As a sophomore at Nebraska-Omaha, Guentzel had 39 points in 36 games and led UNO to the Frozen Four for the first time in program history. After his junior season, he went directly to Wilkes Barre-Scranton and scored 14 points in 10 games, sixth in the AHL playoffs despite the Baby Pens' second-round exit.
So, it was wild to watch Guentzel finish with two points, four shots, two hits and a blocked shot in 16:43 of ice time — and even take a post-whistle shot at Blue Jackets center Boone Jenner.
“It brings everyone up to play playoff hockey,” Guentzel said. “That urge to win has everyone doing it, so it's pretty easy to get up for these games. For sure, playoffs is the best time of the year.”
Only 51 seconds after Saad tied the score at 1-1 at 7:00 of the second period, Guentzel gave the Penguins the momentum for good on a two-on-one against Blue Jackets defenseman Gabriel Carlsson. Crosby slid a pass to Guentzel, whose wrist shot from the top of the right circle sailed low and inside the post for a 2-1 lead at 7:51 of the second period.
“To get that first one out of the way was big for me,” Guentzel said. “Now I can just go only up, I think.”
Given his playoff history, that should be fun to watch.