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Penguins hope home ice gives them an edge

Tuesday, 05.05.2009 / 8:20 PM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

CANNONSBURG, Pa. -- Is playing at home in the Stanley Cup Playoffs really that much of an advantage?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are betting their playoff lives on it.

Empirical evidence shows the teams were 29-23 in this year's playoffs going into Tuesday night's games. Only five of the 16 teams in this year's postseason have losing home records, and of the eight teams that advanced into the second round, only Washington has more than one home loss.

More than wins and losses, however, is the home-ice comfort zone.

"You get excitement and adrenaline from your fans," Penguins forward Matt Cooke said. "Just as important as that is the comfort of your home. You're at home, you're sleeping in your own bed, you're comfortable with the confines and you're not forced to play in a different situation."

Veteran right wing Bill Guerin, who's been with the Penguins for just two months after a Deadline Day deal, agreed that coming home should give the team a boost after two one--goal losses at Washington.

"It's a big lift," Guerin said of returning to Pittsburgh. "Just to come in and have our fans behind us, to be coming into our building, our confidence should be high. We've been successful here. We're looking forward to it."
 
While the fans can't score goals or make saves for the players, some believe they can supply the needed extra energy to do those things.

"There's an anticipation and a confidence level coming home," said coach Dan Bylsma, "knowing that when we step on the ice they're going to be chanting 'Go Pens Go.' And you can feel that in the dressing room, you can feel the room shaking, you can feel it on your way out. And that adds to the jump in your team. When you get momentum swings in games, that's added to by the crowd. It makes it tough when you're on the road and it adds to what you're doing when you're at home. Our fans have been evidence of that in the past and I'm confident that's how Game 3 is going to be and we're going to feed off that as a group and keep it going."

It would help if the Penguins did a few things to give their fans reason to cheer past the opening introductions. Namely, scoring from someone other than Sidney Crosby, better special-teams play and figuring out a way to at least slow Alex Ovechkin, who's seemingly roamed free in the Penguins' zone throughout the first two games.
 
Getting goals from someone other than Crosby -- the Pens' captain has four of their five goals in the series -- is the most important. Players who are being counted on to supply offense, like Guerin, know they need to respond, but also know they need to respond the right way, which means staying within the team concept.

"You definitely do need it," Guerin said of secondary scoring. "When teams and players start to try to press for it, that's when it doesn't come. We just have to focus on playing our game, getting in our system, doing the things that make our team successful and guys will score. Bottom line, if nobody else scores another goal and Sid has every single goal the rest of the way through and we win, that's good."

As great as Crosby is, however, that won't happen.

"No question other players need to step up," said center Jordan Staal, who still is looking for his first goal of this year's playoffs. "Sid can't score them all. … They don't need me to score goals to win games, but at the same time, it would be nice to chip in and get some offense going. Our line hasn't been that great this series and we want to turn it around and play more in the offensive zone and get some momentum for our team."

One option Bylsma said he is considering is playing Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line. Malkin hasn't scored a goal in five games, but playing alongside Crosby could spark the League's leading regular-season scorer.

"I'm considering a lot of different matchups and I always do," Bylsma said. "We're not winning right now so that fosters more thoughts like that. Right now Sid's line is paying real well. So if you're talking about breaking up a line that's playing real well and getting goals for us, that's something to consider along those lines, as well. A lot of things will go into that decision."

Regardless of where Malkin plays, Bylsma said he needs more from him.

"We need to get better, and we need to get better time in the offensive zone," said Bylsma. "We need Geno's line to be a bigger factor in the offensive zone and play there extended periods of time."

As important as it is to score goals, preventing them is just as important. Like Crosby, Ovechkin has 4 goals in the first two games of the series, and his hat trick goal proved to be the difference in a 4-3 loss in Game 2.

"I guess we could do a better job in trying to prevent him from getting the puck," said Guerin. "But we don't want to abandon our whole game plan just to take away one player. They've got too many guys that can hurt you. You spend all that time worrying about Ovechkin, you still have (Viktor) Kozlov and (Sergei) Fedorov and (Alexander) Semin, all those guys. They have a lot of good players up front. We're just going to have to do better as a whole defensively."

Capitals/Penguins Playoff Gear Penguins Gear Capitals Gear Could coming home be the solution to all their problems? Regardless of what the numbers show, the players believe it can, and that might be the most important factor.

"I can't say for everybody but for our team, it seems like we play well in front of our crowd," Pens defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "They give us energy, support us, and it helps us during the games. That's why playing in front of our fans is important."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.






Quote of the Day

I downplayed the first one because I thought it's just a hockey game. We just want to win the game; it's against our rival and we want the two points. I downplayed it, but now having gone through the first one I look back and say, 'Geez, that was really cool.' I think as I've grown a bit older I've got a lot more appreciation for what we're allowed to do every day.

— Capitals forward Brooks Laich on the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the second one of his career after 2011 in Pittsburgh