Dupuis Is Stealing The Spotlight
PITTSBURGH – Dan Bylsma has been hearing it seemingly from the moment he took over at Pittsburgh Penguins head coach four years ago.
Every time the Penguins hit a rough patch, the murmurs about finding a polished winger to play alongside superstar Sidney Crosby pop up. Bylsma understands the sentiment. It’s just that it’s a little misplaced.
Thing is, Bylsma thinks the Penguins already have the winger who can bring out the best in Crosby. Just don’t call Pascal Dupuis under the radar anymore.
He has a point. It’s kind of hard to be under the radar – even when the radar is sometimes consumed by Crosby’s star wattage – when you keep scoring goals whether Crosby’s No. 87 is skating alongside your or not.
The NHL’s leading goal scorer in the postseason isn’t Crosby or reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin. It’s not future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla or All-Star James Neal. It’s a 34-year-old chameleon playing perhaps the best hockey of his career by doing all the little things right, and most of the big ones too.
Dupuis’ textbook shorthanded goal that sealed Pittsburgh’s 4-1 victory against Ottawa in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night gave him six through the first seven games of the postseason. Heady territory for a player who had never scored more than four times in a given postseason during his 12-year career.
The affable Dupuis can’t quite explain what’s happening. To be honest, putting so much thought process into the “why” might ruin the moment.
“I don’t know where it’s coming from, maybe from playing with great players, making the right plays,” he said.
Maybe Dupuis is far more than Crosby’s sidekick. If anything, he’s perhaps Pittsburgh’s best two-way player at the moment, a fixture Bylsma can throw onto the ice in just about any situation as a security blanket.
“He’s an extremely hard worker, extremely diligent,” Bylsma said. “He gets good goals. He gets dirty goals, shorthanded goals like the one last night.”
One that came with Crosby, Malkin and the rest of Pittsburgh’s roster of bold-faced names sitting on the bench.
The Penguins were nursing a 3-1 lead midway through the third period when the Senators went on the power play. Enter Dupuis, who collected a little chip pass from Doug Murray inside the Pittsburgh zone then raced to the Ottawa net with teammate Matt Cooke to his right in a 2-on-1 breakway.
Rather than flip a crossing pass to Cooke, Dupuis patiently waited for Senators goaltender Craig Anderson to hedge just a bit in Cooke’s direction. Given a small gap over Anderson’s right shoulder, Dupuis fired from just in front of the net. The puck ripped under the crossbar and the Penguins had a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues tonight in Pittsburgh.
“I had a little hole and I was confident to shoot it and I put it right there,” Dupuis said.
Something Dupuis has developed a knack for whether Crosby is in the lineup or not.
He collected a career-high 25 goals in 2011-12 even with Crosby missing the majority of the season due to concussion-like symptoms. He added 20 this year in just 48 games.
And unlike some of his more heralded teammates, Dupuis didn’t build his numbers by working on Pittsburgh’s potent power-play. His 17 goals at even strength were tied for sixth-most in the league, one spot ahead of Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. That ability to deliver in traffic is the main reasons Dupuis’ plus-31 rating led the league.
At the moment, Dupuis feels like he “has it every night.” Pittsburgh will certainly take it as it searches for its fourth Stanley Cup. His production gives opponents another headache to solve.