Philip Samuelsson had just allowed a turnover that led to a game-tying goal by the Binghamton Senators during the second period of the opening game of the playoff series on Saturday.
Rather than head to the bench for a scolding by head coach John Hynes, Samuelsson remained on the ice for the next shift.
After that, the second-year blueliner played a nearly flawless game, even collecting an assist on Chad Kolarik’s overtime game-winner. It was clear that the miscue didn’t rattle Samuelsson, or his coach.
“You have to have a short-term memory,” Hynes said after Tuesday’s practice at Coal Street. “You win a game, you lose a game, you score a goal - you have to move on from it.
“You’re going to make mistakes, but it’s really about the next play and the next game.”
Coming off a season where he was named the team’s most improved player, Samuelsson led the Penguins with a plus-10 rating while logging a heavy workload each night. That experience, combined with the 10 playoff games he played in last season, has given Samuelsson the experience and confidence needed to shake off mistakes such as the one that occurred on Saturday.
“Mistakes are going to happen in a game and that one did cost us a goal, but you can never get too down on yourself,” Samuelsson said. “The mental game is a pretty under-rated part of hockey. You have to be able to shake things off and look forward to the next shift.”
Samuelsson is one of several second-year Penguins who have strung together a solid regular season and carried it into the playoffs. Brian Gibbons scored the first postseason goal of his career and added an assist, while Paul Thompson has an assist to go along with his physical play.
Through the first two games of the Binghamton series, both players have played more like veterans than someone only a season removed from their rookie status.
Gibbons said playoff hockey has a way of equalizing those things out.
“There shouldn’t be much difference between a second-year player and a veteran when it comes to the playoffs,” he said. “After you go through it once, you have an understanding of the effort it takes and how important it is to make that investment early on that will pay off as the series goes on.”
While players such as Samuelsson, Gibbons and Thompson continue to show progress in their second postseason in two years, Hynes said the experience they’ve accumulated is paying dividends for the team now and will again for their own development as their careers grow.
“There’s a different level in the playoffs - the intensity, dealing with adversity, all those elements are heightened,” he said. “If you don’t have that playoff experience, you can’t draw on it. They can draw on their own personal experiences from last year when we faced adversity, and that makes a player more battle-hardened.”
Despite holding a 2-0 series advantage and putting the Senators on the brink of elimination, no one in the Penguins locker room was ready to admit the series is a done deal. Perhaps last year’s postseason has something to do with it, when the Penguins held a 2-0 lead over Hershey in the opening round, only to see the Bears win the next two to force a Game 5, which the Penguins won.
“That’s something that’s been discussed,” Gibbons said. “This series isn’t over and we can’t have any let-up at all. We need to forget about the last two games and focus on Thursday.”
The way Samuelsson sees it, the next win is the hardest to obtain for the Penguins.
“It’s never easy to end another team’s season. They’re fighting for their lives and they’re not just going to give it to you,” he said. “Hockey players are proud and want to keep playing as long as they can. We need to match their intensity.”