Carter Rowney #37 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Ottawa Senators in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on May 21, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
Carter Rowney couldn't contain his smile, even under his scraggly playoff beard, when the talk turned to firsts.
Rowney capped what has to be the most memorable week of his hockey career, maybe his life, Sunday afternoon by scoring his first Stanley Cup playoff points in the Penguins' 7-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final.
Rowney was rewarded as the No. 1 star after assisting on goals by Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson and Matt Cullen.
“I was very grateful to have that and be able to come out here and play in the Stanley Cup playoffs and have the opportunity to help the team out,” Rowney said. “To be able to contribute on the scoreboard was surreal, something I've been working hard for.”
Those firsts ranked a distant second in Rowney's whirlwind week that started when he and his wife, Danielle, welcomed their first child, son Anders Rand.
“It's been a lot of firsts this year,” Rowney said. “That birth last week was something special, right? I don't even know if you can put into words. That was a moment you dream about, I guess.”
Rowney was worried he would miss the birth of his son — who was delivered at 10:10 a.m. on May 14, weighing 9.5 pounds and measuring 24 3⁄4 inches — if Anders arrived before the Penguins finished Game 1 or after they departed for a five-day trip to Ottawa.
“I told the baby to stay in there until after the game, and then it could come out, and that's kind of how it worked, right?” he said. “That was an unbelievable high, an unbelievable moment, something special to have my first son.”
Rowney took the road less traveled to the NHL as an undrafted free agent out of the University of North Dakota in 2013, going from signing a two-way contract worth $25,000 with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL and $45,000 with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL to putting the Penguins within a game of another Cup final.
“He's on top of the world,” Penguins goalie Matt Murray said. “Being a dad, I'm sure, will give you that feeling. I'm really happy for him in that regard, apart from hockey. Having your first kid, that's a pretty special moment and you can tell how happy he is because of it. It's really nice to see.”
So was Rowney's impact on the Penguins' third line, which has failed to live up to the HBK fame of last year. This time, the third line set the tone by scoring off forechecks, chasing dumps into corners and forcing turnovers.
“Our line created some chances, so it was kind of a matter of time,” Rowney said. “If you keep doing the right things out there and we'll face some chances and capitalize and get your opportunities. We got a little puck luck, and we were able to get a couple in the back of the net.”
The scoring outburst was special, considering that Rowney had tallied four assists in his previous 38 NHL games, regular season and playoffs combined. He had three assists in the first 22 minutes of Game 5.
“He's a real good player, really underrated,” Murray said. “He's solid and just does his job, but you also know he can produce. I think one of his best abilities is his ability to skate for such a big guy, and he can really hit, as well. He can create some energy and some momentum on the forecheck, and he can produce, too.
“It's really nice to see a guy like that get rewarded on the score sheet. But we know his value, and we know what he does each and every night. He's a heck of a player.”
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Rowney, who can play center or wing, won the respect of Penguins coach Mike Sullivan and his teammates with his toughness and versatility and has become a mainstay in the lineup this series after playing in only two games against Washington.
Rowney admitted that “it's hard” to go in and out of the lineup but said he spent his scratches doing the little things to stay prepared for when the Penguins penciled him back into a regular role.
“You want to make sure you're ready because you don't want to let down your teammates,” Rowney said. “You've got to stay sharp off the ice and make sure you're focused.
“It's been something I've been looking forward to, just trying to go out there and be consistent and trying to play my game. It's been a good experience so far, and I'm just trying to take it all in.”