PITTSBURGH -- As Brandon Sutter broke down the right side on an odd-man rush midway through the third period of Game 1, the buzz of expectation rose perceptibly in a sold-out Consol Energy Center.
They'd seen this before.
Taking a pass from Beau Bennett, the lanky Sutter cut slightly toward the center of the ice and just inside the right faceoff circle and unleashed a quick, hard shot that took Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky by surprise, whistling between his right arm and his body.
The goal turned out to be the difference in the Pittsburgh Penguins' playoff-opening 4-3 victory. It was a reminder of the tools Sutter possesses and, at the same time, a reminder of how little is truly known about just where the 25-year-old's talents might take him.
"It's huge. Playoffs you know it's got to be a different guy every night. Suttsy plays against some top lines and he's got a scoring touch, so for him to get a big goal like that is nice and it's nice to see him get rewarded," captain Sidney Crosby said at the time. "But again to win in the playoffs, you need kind of a different guy every night and it's great to see him step up in Game 1."
Longtime broadcast analyst Tripp Tracy watched Sutter, the son of NHL player and coach Brent Sutter, grow up in the Carolina Hurricanes' organization. Tracy believes that all things are possible for the swift-skating, right-shooting center.
"If he wants to be the top third-line center in the league, he can be, I truly believe that," Tracy told ESPN.com Friday as the Penguins prepared to host the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 2 of their first-round series in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. "He's already a good player. I believe he can be a great player.
"With Brandon Sutter, it's up to him because he has phenomenal skating ability."
In many ways, this spring looms large for Sutter. Leading up to the trade deadline, the Penguins were among a small group of teams in hot pursuit of former Frank J. Selke Trophy winner Ryan Kesler, whose time with the Vancouver Canucks appears to be drawing to a close.
The thinking was that the Penguins would like to get back to a dominating three-center rotation that marked the team in their back-to-back runs to the Stanley Cup finals, in 2008 and 2009, when Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal made the Penguins extremely difficult to defend against.