In Game 1 Wednesday, the Penguins concentrated their defensive focus on the Islanders' top line. Central to that focus was Islanders center John Tavares, a candidate for the Hart Trophy.
As a result, Tavares, left winger Matt Moulson and right winger Brad Boyes were limited to four shots. Tavares failed to record a shot while Moulson and Boyes each had two as the Penguins won, 5-0.
A major factor in Tavares being shut down was Penguins left winger Brenden Morrow. Teamed on a third line with center Brandon Sutter and left winger Matt Cooke, Morrow dropped Tavares with several hits all over the ice.
Yesterday, Morrow talked about his role, focusing on Tavares and his linemates.
How often have you been used as a third liner in your career?
"I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a checking line per se other than maybe in the Olympics. In Dallas, I played with [Mike] Modano, [Joe] Nieuwendyk and [Mike] Ribeiro and they weren't exactly the shutdown line. I think the Olympics was probably the first time I was in a checking role. My game is pretty simple. It’s a physical game. I’m driving to the net and finishing checks."
How much does being the home team make it easier to match your line against that line?
"That was kind of the focus last night, to get that match-up. Who know what’s going to happen in Game 3 [in Uniondale, N.Y.] or even for that matter [Game 2] if coach keeps things the same. It seemed like last night we matched up against Tavares’ line."
Are you trying to wear on him physically and mentally?
"It’s probably a combination of everything. I think we want to stay above him. That team is pretty lethal if you give them opportunities in transition. So we want to stay high above them. You can slow them down by playing physical against him. Wear him down. Make him have to fight for every inch on the ice. I think that’s our focus with a lot of their players."
How much of the focus is on him as opposed to the line as a whole?
"He probably makes that line tick but [Moulson and Boyes] are really good players when the puck is on their stick. [Tavares] is kind of the guy who makes a lot of the plays through the neutral zone and carrying the puck but when those guys the puck on their stick, they’re pretty lethal."
Did you sense any frustration by them?
"I didn’t necessarily. They seemed like they competed all night. We made it hard on them. We were physical in every zone on them. Our [defensemen] were physical on them. In their zone, we were trying to finish checks too."
It seemed like Cooke was able to agitate them, especially early on.
"He’s very good at that. He plays that role better than anyone in the league. He gets under a lot of peoples’ skin. He’s an aggressive forecheck guy. He creates a lot of havoc and he frustrates a lot of people."
What does Sutter offer as your center?
"He’s great on faceoffs. You can use him in any situation. He’s killed penalties and he’s always reliable on pucks and strong defensively."
Are there any comparable players to Cooke and Sutter you have played with in your careers?
"[Former Stars right winger] Jere Lehtinen was always a responsible player in his own zone if you want to compare [Sutter] to somebody. The closest thing I could thing of with [Cooke] is [former Stars center] Steve Ott. There’s no better guys who get under peoples’ skin and frustrate and [tick] people off."
(Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)