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Body maintenance important in back-to-back games

by Adam Kimelman /
PITTSBURGH -- Playing games on consecutive days is a challenge. The challenge is even greater, however, when it's back-to-back games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That's the situation facing the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals as they head into Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series Friday night (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS), with Game 5 Saturday night in Washington (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).

Every team plays back-to-back games during the regular season, so it's not an entirely new experience. Still, each player has his own routine for making sure he's at his finest for both games.

"I don't think you change anything," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of his preparation. "You make sure you drink a lot of water, you get a lot of fluids into you. You lose a lot of weight in these games with how hot it is sometimes, and just the wear and tear of the games. Some guys are different, they don't lose as much, so they don't have to worry about that. But for me, I usually lose a little more weight, so I try to get my weight back up and stuff like that."

"You prepare for the first game, and then you get rest, recovery and try to jam all that it in and try to run on adrenaline and emotion," Chris Kunitz said.

"We have a great trainer in Mike Kadar," Kunitz said. "He has the different shakes for us, nutrition, weighs us in and out, lets us know how much fluid we should be drinking between games. If you lose so many pounds, you need to take so much fluids in. You try to recover, get a little bit of exercise, ride the bike, stretch, and try to get ready for the next game."

Maxime Talbot said the winner of Game 4 automatically becomes the favorite for Game 5. "Whatever team wins (Friday) is going to go in with big momentum in Game 5, which is good. I like it," he said.

Fresh ice -- The Mellon Arena ice staff hasn't had the easiest last few days. On Tuesday the WWE took over the arena, followed by Game 3 of the Pens-Caps series Wednesday, a Dane Cook comedy show Thursday, and Game 4 Friday.

All that action can make a less-than-ideal ice surface, but that's just par for the course nowadays.

"It's soft and that's partly because of the weather and they have events and stuff like that here over the last week," Sidney Crosby said. "It's typical in May when you're playing -- you expect bad ice conditions, so you have to be aware of that and try to do the right things with the puck."

Pens forward Chris Kunitz said he didn't notice any real difference in the ice conditions during Friday morning's practice.

"It's the same as always," he said. "They're pretty much the same as always, every rink. There's no more old Edmonton ice that everyone used to love to play on. I think all the ice is fairly the same."

"It was OK," Maxime Talbot said. "I know (Washington coach) Bruce Boudreau said it was sticky, but with skating you really can't feel the stick. If it's a factor, it's a factor for both sides. No advantage for either team."

The anti-Ovies -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has done his best to get defenseman Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill on the ice every time Capitals star forward Alexander Ovechkin comes over the boards.

While Ovechkin has five goals in the first three games of the series, Bylsma has liked what he's seen from his defensive duo. Gill has been on the ice for four of Ovechkin's five goals, while Scuderi was out for two of them, but that pairing helped limit Ovechkin to one fluky goal and just five shots in Game 3.

"To have to match Alex Ovechkin's speed and ability to get open and get a shot off is a difficult thing to do," Bylsma said. "Those guys have done a good job in terms of maintaining a good gap and having a good stick against him. If you let up for one second he is going to get one off. If you are out of position he is going to step to the middle and get a shot off. It's a tall order but they know what their task is and they know what their role is and they have done a good job."

Getting help from backchecking forwards has also helped with slowing Ovechkin.

"In the last game we were much better at coming back and allowing our defense to have that gap and then taking away the wide guys and the late guys -- it's a challenge," Bylsma said. "It's one of the strengths of their team, and if we make one mistake, like we did in Game 2, it ends up in the back of your net and that can be the difference. …It's a challenge to make sure we are sorting it out on the way back and then you have to have the confidence to step up and maintain that gap. Rob and Hal have done a good job against those guys, but that (forwards getting back) is still going to be a big key going forward here."

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