(above) DU Alum Beau Bennett scored his first NHL playoff goal on Tuesday night
by Chris Adamski
The picturesque May morning in Pittsburgh on Wednesday seemed that much sunnier for the rookie they call "Sunshine" when he received word he would make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut later that evening.
A clear, 78-degree afternoon must have felt like home for Southern California native & University of Denver Alum Beau Bennett.
Twenty-five seconds into his first career postseason shift, the 21-year-old Bennett scored his first career postseason goal. Bennett, a surprise addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins' lineup for their playoff opener, wasn't told he'd be playing against the New York Islanders for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series until Wednesday morning.
His goal opened the floodgates of what turned out to be a 5-0 Pittsburgh victory.
"You definitely get ramped up because the crowd was ready from the get-go," said Bennett, a 2010 first-round draft pick (No. 20) of the Penguins. "I was pretty excited to get that first shift on the power play -- and definitely helped getting that goal as well."
Bennett flipped a wrist shot to the perfect spot of only a couple of inches of near-side space between Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov's shoulder, the cross bar and the post as he skated down through the right circle with speed.
"There wasn't a whole lot of room," veteran teammate Brenden Morrow said, marveling, "and he found a little hole there up top."
It was the kind of skill play that Bennett -- dubbed "Sunshine" by his teammates after a character in the movie "Remember the Titans" -- regularly wows teammates and coaches with in practice.
But as talented as Bennett is, there were doubts he'd be able to crack a deep lineup of a team that is on a very short list of Stanley Cup favorites. While Bennett appeared in 26 games this season, many times a spot was open in the lineup because of injuries to other players.
"The skill he adds to our lineup on the fourth line was not only evident on that goal, but evident in 5-on-5 as well with some of the shifts he had in the offensive zone," Bylsma said. "That's something he's added in his latest stint with us after he got called back up. He's proven that, and certainly did that tonight."
Bennett's goal came at the tail end of a power play, meaning he was on the ice with world-class talents Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Bennett fit right in -- good thing, too, because when James Neal left the game early in the second period with an apparent lower-body injury, Bennett found himself on a line with Malkin and Chris Kunitz.
The Penguins gave no update on Neal's status for Game 2 -- but they can feel confident Bennett can slot into any top-six role.
"He's got a lot of skill -- and a lot of smarts," Jarome Iginla said of Bennett. "People talk about hockey IQ and stuff; he's got a lot of it. He finds ways to make plays with the puck, and the puck seems to follow him."
Bylsma said Bennett was probably the team's best power-play guy outside of the first unit over the final 10 games of the regular season.