Beau Bennett's performance in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets Wednesday was something of a rarity.
A goal and an assist (as well as a big hit on Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray) aren't rare occurrences by themselves for a team which has had its fair share of offensive superstars over the years. That fact that a forward drafted by the current management team produced some offense at a big moment was what made it a scarce event.
Bennett's second NHL season hasn't gone the way he and management would have liked given the 51 games he missed due to a wrist injury. Returning to the lineup in the final stages of the regular season, Bennett, a first-round pick in 2010, was inserted into a first line role primarily on Sidney Crosby's line and had some modest success with four points in nine games down the stretch.
Wednesday's game saw Bennett spark a comeback from a 3-1 deficit to the upstart Blue Jackets. His deflection goal salvaged a power play early in the second period to make it a 3-2 game. Later, in the third period, after having been moved to the third line, he set up Brandon Sutter for the eventual game-winning goal in what was a 4-3 victory.
Recently, Bennett talked about what he expects out of the second postseason of his NHL career, where he is physically and the difference between the first and third lines.
How do you approach this postseason in comparison to last postseason?
"I didn’t really know what to expect last year. I didn’t have much experience in playoffs at all. The BCHL (British Columbia Hockey League) back to my junior days is really it for me. Last year was a good test. It’s definitely a different compete level and intensity out there. Definitely I think I’m more ready for it this year."
Last season's lineup was tough to crack considering players such as Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow were inhabiting bottom-six forward roles at points in the postseason. Do you approach this postseason differently knowing a spot in the lineup might be more secure?
"I just want to make an impact where ever that might be. We’ve got a lot of capable guys here. Our depth at forward and defense is pretty solid. Whatever role I’m in, I’ll play it to the best of my abilities."
Do you want to offer more this postseason in terms of production?
"Yeah. I could have gotten zero points if we would have won it last year… it wouldn’t even matter. It’s about trying to score those big goals when you need them. Blocking those big shots when you need to. Sometimes, production isn’t the end-all, be-all. You just want to help your team win. Whatever that takes, you’ve got to do it."
Do you have a sense of greater expectations given where you were drafted?
"I think I put expectations on myself. The coaches definitely expect more out of me. With the increased ice time I’ve had as of late, it’s been great. I’ve just got to reward them back with good play, solid play. Going forward, that’s something I’ll build on. This being the most games in a row I’ve played, it’s definitely a work in progress but I’m enjoying the opportunity for the time being."
Where are you physically compared to a year ago?
Physically, I’m in a lot better shape than I was a year ago. Seeing how some of these guys train off the ice, I feel like I’m a lot more ready for the grind that is the playoffs, more so than last year. It kind of wore me down to the point that I was out of the lineup for most of the playoffs. I came back for those last two games against Boston and I felt great. But to be able to sustain is a different level. You see the top guys on our team are able to do it and I would like to be able to do it as well.
What's different about a first-line role compared to a third-line role?
"In the playoffs, not really too much. You’re trying to create opportunities for yourself. I think the only thing would be the increased ice time [on the first line]. You’re getting more opportunities out there. When it comes to playoffs, you’ll see guys like [Sidney Crosby] and everyone buckling down, bearing down, blocking shots. It’s really a joint effort to try to pull out wins rather than a first, second, third line. In the regular season, you usually see those top two lines producing. When everyone’s producing down the board, you go a lot further."
(Photo: Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)