Kovacevic: When itches don’t need scratched


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Matt Murray looks across at the Islanders' OT celebration Wednesday night in Uniondale, N.Y. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

UNIONDALE, N.Y. --  Scratching Jack Johnson doesn't singularly set the stage for any Stanley Cup playoff outcome, and it'd be silly to suggest anything of the sort. In fact, I'd place a Belmont-level bet that this particular outcome, the Penguins' 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders in their series opener Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum, wouldn't have been altered in any way had Johnson been swapped into the lineup for any one player.

No, not even Olli Maatta.

At the same time, I think it'd be equally silly to suggest that several of Mike Sullivan's moves, headlined by the outright stunning scratching of Johnson, didn't mightily contribute ... not just to the outcome, but also the many messes that preceded it.

Let's first hold the following five truths to be self-evident:

• The Penguins went 16-6-5 to close out the regular season, performing with greater consistency than at any other point.

• The defensemen -- meaning the men, not the team concept -- also were at their peak.

Matt Murray, in making 21 of 22 starts with a .927 save percentage, also was at his peak.

• The fourth line of Teddy Blueger, Matt Cullen and Garrett Wilson, while no dynamo, had begun contributing for the first time, and that would be vital against New York's famously tough fourth line.

Brian Dumoulin was entering these playoffs mighty iffy because of a lower-body injury that, as recently as a couple days ago, rendered him unable to skate on his own, much less practice. Similarly, Zach Aston-Reese had only this week shed his no-contact sweater after a three-week injury absence.

Got all that?

Any disagreement so far?

OK, stay with me. It's about to become a fitful struggle to grasp what followed. Because Sullivan's moves in advance of Game 1 included:

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