Penguins Playoff Update: Shades of ‘92 – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Playoff Update: Shades of ‘92

I remember the incident like it was yesterday.

It was Tuesday, May 5, 1992. Game Two of the Patrick Division Finals. Fresh off a rousing come-from-behind conquest of Washington in the opening round of the playoffs, the Penguins had toppled the Rangers—Presidents’ Trophy winners—in Game One at Madison Square Garden.

They were up 1-0 in Game Two, courtesy of an early goal by Kevin Stevens. The Pens were threatening to score again when New York defenseman Joe Cirella was called for elbowing.

Ron Francis won the faceoff to begin the power play and drew the puck back to Mario Lemieux at the left point. As the Pens’ captain gathered in the pass, Rangers penalty killer Adam Graves skated toward him with bad intentions.


“When I saw Adam coming, I knew he wasn’t kidding around,” Mario recalled.

Wielding his stick like a baseball bat, Graves swung for the fences and caught Lemieux with a wicked two-handed slash across the left wrist. The big center crumpled to the ice in pain, to the jeers of the hostile Garden crowd.

It was the shot heard round the hockey world and seen by all—except referee Dan Marouelli. Instead of banishing Graves, he issued a minor penalty, giving the Rangers the green light to continue their barbaric play.

Moments later, Broadway bruiser Kris King leveled Joey Mullen with a vicious check, tearing up the veteran winger’s knee.

In matter of minutes, the defending Cup champs were stripped of the best player in the world and a 40-goal scorer, future Hall-of-Famers. Visibly shaken by the gut-wrenching turn of events, the black and gold wilted while the Rangers charged back to win, 4-2.

Afterward, the Penguins’ worst fears were realized. Lemieux had a broken bone in his hand. Mullen required knee surgery. Both were out for the foreseeable future.

Speculation was rampant that New York coach Roger Neilson, who had a well-known affinity for back-alley tactics, had placed a bounty on Mario.

“You are supposed to go for the hands,” Neilson said, callously defending Graves’ actions. “It’s great not having to worry about Lemieux.”

Even now, the hatred bubbles to the surface. United in righteous anger, Penguins nation seethed. Fans screamed for retribution. “Bury Graves” read one of the many placards on display at the Civic Arena for Game 3. Others suggested far worse.

The league acted swiftly, suspending Graves for four games. It seemed a ridiculously light sentence for such a willful and wanton act of violence. Already stoked to a white-hot pitch, rage among the Steel City populace escalated to near nuclear levels.

Amid the boiling cauldron of emotions, Penguins coach Scotty Bowman urged his players to forget about revenge.

“Putting the puck in the net is the worst aggression to another team,” he said. “We want to put more pucks into the net.”

Forward Phil Bourque echoed Bowman’s pleas.

“I think the best revenge would be to just beat them in the series,” said the ol’ Two-Niner.

Twenty-five years later, the names have changed, but the plot remains remarkably the same.

Another Penguins superstar, arguably the best player in the game, is out. Hurt on a borderline play that, to the naked eye, appeared nothing more than a deliberate intent to injure. Igniting similar passions among the Penguins’ faithful.

Once again, the message from our coach is clear.

“We’re just going to play the game,” said Mike Sullivan, affirming his oft-repeated mantra following Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss. “We’re going to play the game hard, and we’re going to do everything we can to win hockey games.”

To that end, the Pens recalled forwards Josh Archibald and Oskar Sundqvist from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Conspicuously absent from the call-ups? Heavyweight Tom Sestito, who beat up Capitals bad boy Tom Wilson during the 2016-17 season opener.

The moves mirror those of then-GM Craig Patrick back in ‘92. He, too, opted for a turn-the-other cheek approach. Instead of plugging the gap with mammoth enforcer Jay Caufield, Patrick summoned forwards Jock Callander, Dave Michayluk and Mike Needham from the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

Dubbed “the Muskegon Line” by the local press, the trio would soon play a pivotal role.

With the Penguins down 2-games-to-1 and all but out in Game Four, Needham beat Rangers goalie Mike Richter on a second-effort tally to trigger an improbable comeback. Displaying remarkable resilience and character, the Pens won three-straight to oust New York.

Then Mario returned in glorious fashion. With No. 66 leading the way, we swept aside Boston and Chicago to capture our second Cup.

Let’s hope history repeats and the good guys prevail again.

*Be sure to check out Rick Buker’s books,
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  1. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    May 3, 2017 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    What a game Rick.
    No Crosby.No Letang.No Murray.No Sheary.
    But the Pen’s got the job done!. Coach talked about
    the monkey on the Caps back. We being in their head.
    After tonight you could see the expression on Ovi’s face that this series is done.We are definitely in their head.
    That monkey must weigh 1000 pounds now.

    I know we have to win 4….and 3 is not 4…But very few teams come back being down 3 games to one.

    That save MAF made on Lars Eller in the third period was unbelievable. That one will be shown for many days on sports TV.
    Plus we have an extra travel day to help heal our wounded.We play on Saturday pm , not Friday as usual.
    Hope Sidney is back by then.

    Maybe it will be Pen’s in 5 ?? Job well done guys.


    • May 4, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim, Great game. I hate to say this, but I think the win afforded the Pens the chance to rest Sid & not rush him back. I would be great if he could rest an extra week or so.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        May 4, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        Hi Phil
        I agree that Crosby goes Monday in game 6 if needed.
        Based on the compete level of our team last night I think we can win in Washington. They were over the top.
        You saw the game live…Where was Ovi last night? Backstrom? For me the scariest Capital is their second Center Kucherov. ?( forgive the spelling). He is fast and handles the puck as good as anybody in a Caps uniform.
        Bonino. ..What can u say? We needed a penalty to win the game and he got one. Probably should be nominated for an Academy Award. …but others do it all the time. So I am happy.

        Let’s go Pen’s.

        • May 4, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

          I just heard that Crosby is back skating. That is a good sign.

          I don’t know if you saw it, very early in the game Kunitz set the tone.

          Kunitz was skating towards the Pens bench, at the end of his shift and Niskanen was skating down towards the Penguins end. Kunitz sped up, turned and headed straight for Niskanen like he was head hunting. As Kunitz got to Niskanen, Kunitz did a fake juke like he was going to hit him, Niskanen completely ducked.

          The brilliance was Kunitz doing that right in front of the Capitals bench. It really set the tone for the evening. The entire night while the Capitals were looking over their shoulders for something to hit them, the Pens were putting the puck in their net.

          As for Ovechkin, he isn’t half the player he used to be. He is maybe 3rd or 4th best player on the caps, a power play shooter but not much else. Maybe all his partying has caught up with him, who knows. He is 31 and if I owned a team, he isn’t someone I would want captaining it.

          Funny thing about Bonino’s Oscar, he took a stick to the face about 2 minutes before that that wasn’t called.

    • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
      May 4, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Crosby is a huge part of this Pens team let’s not make any mistakes about that.
      However, saw an interesting stat, going into last nights game, Malkin had more points/60 minutes in play-off games and the Pens still have his services. Obviously, with both Crosby and Malkin in line up, forcing teams to split their D it is easier for both of them to pile up points, but Malkin keeps on trucking this season picking up another point.

      And how about my man Guentzel, the rookie.

      And let’s not forget MAF as you said. Before the playoffs began, I said the Pens goalies would have to heroic if the Pens were to stand a chance and so far MAF is fulfilling that piece of the puzzle. Only Nashville is getting better goaltending right now.

      • Jim's Gravatar Jim
        May 4, 2017 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Hey Coach
        I am in no way belittling the importance of Sidney.
        I see he is nominated for the Hart Trophy and now his 4th Ted Lindsay award. ( Mario has 4, Gretzky has 5).
        That is good company to keep.
        But what was obvious last night is the Pen’s are the deeper team AND are willing to do what ever it takes to win.The Caps are not….yet anyway. So in every athlete beats a heart of a Champion. We are and for now they are not . No question that MAF has risen to the challenge and to date he is my Conn Smythe nominee.
        Halifax media reports Sidney is hurt. THE official line from the Team is he is doing well.??
        Why risk further injury? Give him a few more days off.
        On another subject that is good news for us is the Oiler/Duck serious is tied 2 a piece.The Oilers are in a fight that they may lose. Same with Ottawa.
        But right now if I were a betting man, my money is on US.
        Cheers ☺

        • Jim's Gravatar Jim
          May 4, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          Series not serious…Sorry Coach ..typo

        • the Other Rick's Gravatar the Other Rick
          May 4, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          Hey Jim,

          Sorry if I appeared to misunderstand you, I was qualifying what I was about to write about Malkin. I guess I have written comments on too many reactionary sites were people often times jump to conclusions, so I did want anyone thinking I was belittling Crosby in any way shape of form, by citing Malkin’s higher P/60. I am just grateful we have both of them on the same team, as you said this team may be the deepest in the league for offensive talent.

          Also I agree, I wouldn’t risk Crosby, maybe not even in a game 7 of this series

          As for Conn Smythe Nominee, should the Pens win, since I am a former Goalie I tend toward MAF, that is my bias, but the lethal offense of the Pens is also very prominent and Malkin and Guentzel could find a way to bounce up a little. When a team can score 3 goals on 19 shots against a goalie that is a Vezina Candidate and has so far managed to make 2 of the 3 Vezina Candidates look mortal (Holtby) less than mortal (Bobrovsky) can’t be ignored either.

          Hockey is still a game of scoring 1 more goal for than against and for a team to average over 3.71G/60 against 2 of the three Vezina Candidates, in the Play-offs, those are heady numbers too.

  2. Jayelene's Gravatar Jayelene
    May 3, 2017 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    My first reaction, Rick, was to cry out for blood. But after seeing the play ad nauseam in full speed, half speed, and slow motion, I’ve come around to your way of thinking. I don’t believe either Ovechkin or Niskanen intended to injure Sid. (And you know from my previous posts that it’s not easy for me to give Ovie the benefit of the doubt! 😉 )

    What I hope we see is a rallying cry over this – we have the skilled players that can send the Caps to the golf course, so let’s just go out and ‘play the game the right way.’

    GO PENS!

    A mellower & kinder Jayelene

  3. Jim's Gravatar Jim
    May 3, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Hey Guys
    Tonight Bonino has a big game for us.
    Cullen too.
    It is not about Ovi. ..
    For me it is about pressuring their Center men.
    Turnovers. !
    Of course Geno will be Geno….2 or 3 points tonight.

    Let’s go Pen’s. 😀

  4. May 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Amid the boiling cauldron of emotions, Penguins coach Scotty Bowman urged his players to forget about revenge. “Putting the puck in the net is the worst aggression to another team,” he said. “We want to put more pucks into the net.”

    “We’re just going to play the game,” said Mike Sullivan, affirming his oft-repeated mantra following Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss. “We’re going to play the game hard, and we’re going to do everything we can to win hockey games.”

    Great Stuff Rick! Let’s go Pens!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      May 3, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Phil … 🙂

      GO PENS!



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