Penguins not fazed by quick return to the ice
The Penguins could be complaining that, after playing in three consecutive overtime games, they have less than a 48-hour window of rest before playing at New Jersey in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
‘I’m ready,’ Penguins goaltender Johan Hedberg said, less than 12 hours after Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres. ‘There’s no tiredness at all. Of course, it was an overtime game and you don’t get too much sleep. It’s always easier to wake up and have a morning coffee after a win like that.’
For a team that was 1:18 from the brink of elimination before Mario Lemieux’s tying goal in Game 6, the Penguins still are flying high off their ability to survive the Sabres with a pair of overtime victories.
The talk of Mellon Arena on Friday was about how the Penguins could carry that momentum into the next phase of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Of how playing the defending champion Devils might not be a bad thing for the Penguins, a team that is starting to talk about the Cup and destiny in the same breath.
‘I think at this time of the year, if you play more instead of taking a break, it helps your game,’ Penguins winger Alexei Kovalev said. ‘It’s not easy finding your game afterwards. It takes one or two games, sometimes. If we played every other day, that’d be great.’
Despite such optimism, the Penguins will return to Pittsburgh following Game 1 at 7 tonight at Continental Airlines Arena. The Penguins will have an 11 a.m. practice at Mellon Arena on Monday, then return to the Garden State to prepare for Game 2 on Tuesday.
It’s highly unusual for a team to travel home between road games this late in the playoffs. The Penguins had to petition the NHL to make it possible because of the large contingent of national and Canadian media covering the series that wouldn’t have access to the Penguins in New Jersey on Sunday.
‘There was a request by the club based on the number of games, the short period of turnaround between series and the span of time between games here (in New Jersey),’ said NHL spokesman Frank Brown, who added that the Penguins will be available to media stationed in New Jersey via satellite/conference call tomorrow.
Mario Lemieux said that the short turnaround and travel schedule might cause them to take a more patient approach to Game 1 instead of the free-flowing offense they used in regular-season games against the Devils.
‘It’s going to be obviously a tough game for us, to come back (Friday) and get our rest is going to be difficult,’ Lemieux said. ‘Our game plan might have to adjust a little bit for the first game and be very patient, and maybe wait for our chances a little more than we’ve done the last couple games just because we are so tired after a tough series.’
The Penguins know that, with eight victories separating them from their third Stanley Cup, they are about to undergo a test of their resolve. The Devils present a challenge with four strong lines – Lemieux cautioned that it will be a ‘short series’ if the Penguins don’t answer in kind – a spectacular defense, led by Scott Stevens, and the goaltending of Martin Brodeur.
There’s no time to be tired.
‘Everybody’s saying we’re tired, but you’re not tired now,’ Penguins winger Kevin Stevens said. ‘You don’t get tired. You just try to go out and play as hard as you can.’
It’s not like the Penguins are the only team with a short recovery period. The Toronto Maple Leafs took New Jersey to a grueling seven games in the other semifinal, and the Devils had only one more day off than the Penguins.
‘It would’ve been nice to get a couple days off in between, but the playoffs are a long haul,’ Penguins defenseman Bob Boughner said. ‘As it is right now, you go into the playoffs and you’re playing until the middle of June.’
That’s why the Penguins believe that it’s not a bad thing for them to return to playing as quickly as possible. They have established a certain rhythm, a momentum they are hoping will continue carry them in the playoffs.
‘That’s the way it is in the playoffs,’ Hedberg said. ‘When you’re winning, everything is easier. Everybody is really excited for the next series, so I don’t think it’s going to be any problem for us to refocus on the next one.’
So, they say, bring on the Devils.
The sooner the better.