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'All Access' shows players relieving stress from playoffs

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin has 'hockey hands' on football field in Episode 2 of Showtime series

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

After the opening segment, with its shots of cheering crowds and thumping hits, wins being celebrated and goalies being replaced, Episode 2 of Showtime Sports' "All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup," shifts focus for a minute. In fact, it shifts sports entirely.

Because instead of showing Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin on the ice, he's shown on a football field.

It does not look entirely natural.

Or, as Malkin says as he drops a pass, "Hockey hands."

It's the day before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators. Among the storylines are Penguins coach Mike Sullivan's decision to start goaltender Matt Murray rather than Marc-Andre Fleury, a choice that results in a series-tying win for Pittsburgh.

As All Access takes fans deep inside the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, we see the stress ratcheting up and the pressure increasing. An example is Senators captain Erik Karlsson yelling at his teammates on the bench to "Wake up! Wake the [expletive] up!"

Because that is what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are.

And as the narration says in the beginning of the episode, "There's something special about this time of year, when everyone, those who play, those who coach, even those who watch with unmatched passion each and every game, take everything to the next level."

Video: All Access: Quest For The Stanley Cup Ep. 2 Preview

That level goes higher as the days move on and the Stanley Cup Final looms over everything.

The relentlessness is in focus when we head to the Western Conference Final, where the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks have been trying to wear each other down enough to take control of the series.

As the narrative mentions, there's a "healthy amount of mutual dislike."

And that won't change when the series continues. In fact, it will only get more pronounced.

But not everyone is feeling the pressure. Karlsson, in the lead up to Game 5 in Pittsburgh, said he is feeling "mellow," seemingly without the intensity that he will have on the ice hours later. But he knows that once the puck drops, everything will change.

Before that happens, Penguins defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Trevor Daley have to take part in one of their odd traditions, pouring out a little bit of their pregame Red Bulls for the defensemen not in the lineup. In this case that means Justin Schultz, and forward Eric Fehr who was traded, among their "homies."

Video: Showtime All Access Ep. 2: Coaches

And then comes the most lopsided game of the series, a 7-0 win by the Penguins in Game 5 that puts them on the brink of reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive year.

We get an example of how important this time of year is to the players. Predators center Ryan Johansen emerges from the hospital just hours before Game 6 of the Western Conference Final with Nashville having a chance to clinch a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.

Video: Showtime All Access Ep. 2: Preds Advance to the Final

That is when we see the triumph of someone we never thought would be in this position propelling a team that wasn't exactly a Stanley Cup favorite. Forward Colton Sissons has a hat trick in the Predators' 6-3 win.

While the Penguins have a chance to join the Predators in the Cup Final with a win in Game 6, they can't quite manage it, in large part because of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.

That sets up Game 7 in Pittsburgh on Thursday, a chance to finalize the Stanley Cup Final and make some dreams come true. It's a chance for this special time of year to bring out the passions, taking everything once again to that next level.

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