There were lots of things for Penguins fans to be excited about before Game 1 last night.
Perennial postseason overachiever Derick Brassard was making his Penguins playoff debut after missing the last five regular season games.
Matt Murray, for the first time in his young career, was starting the playoffs with no goalie controversy in sight (sorry, Casey DeSmith).
The team was taking on the cross-state rival Flyers, who they haven’t been able to get their hands on in the playoffs since the series that we no longer speak about.
Oh, and the Penguins officially began their playoff defense of the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row, looking to claim a third straight and be anointed a dynasty.
Then the puck dropped, and this:
happened as the Flyers failed to stop the Penguins’ “little streak” — marking the fifth win over the Flyers this year, with the Penguins scoring 5 goals or more in each game.
Basically, all the things happened.
But the one major thing that happened, that isn’t getting nearly the buzz it should, was the postseason return of Kris Letang.
Last night was Letang’s first playoff action in 22 months — his last appearance coming in Game 6 in San Jose, where he scored the GWG that led these Penguins to win their first Cup since 2009.
Not only was Letang back in the lineup for his first postseason game since 2016, but he looked like elite defenseman Kris Letang. There have been some Letang-of-old games this season that left many of us face-palming — or worse, having flashbacks to the Bruins series of 2013 — but last night was not one of those nights. Letang was really good. It may have been the best he’s looked all season.
Letang was a monster at 5-on-5. He led the team in TOI and CF% (61.76%), and was on the ice for 14 shots for and 7 against, as well as 14 scoring chances for and only 6 against, including 7 high danger scoring chances (giving up just 1).
He also blocked an Ivan Provorov shot and managed to split the puck in two:
Letang blocks a Provorov shot and the puck broke! pic.twitter.com/se7M0bV8oE— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 12, 2018
We’ve said it time and again: losing Letang is more detrimental to this team than losing one of Sid/Geno. He plays 30 minutes a night, against the opposition’s top line, on the power play, on the penalty kill, starts the breakout, and unlike Sid and Geno, doesn’t have a player remotely close to his skill set or abilities to step up in his absence. It’s a miracle the Pens were able to repeat as champions last year without having Kris Letang in the lineup for a single minute.
Luckily, Letang is back in the fold this year and looks to have picked up right where he left off after Game 6 in San Jose. It’s only one game for the Pens, and only 22 minutes of TOI for Letang, but both should be encouraged after last night. If Letang’s Game 1 performance is any indication of the form he’ll be in this spring, and he manages to stay in the lineup, it could be another long one for the Penguins.
Oh, and this. This is good.