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Penguins looking to use time off wisely

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Prior to this season, it had been five years since Brenden Morrow experienced the thrill of playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now that he is forced to wait up to a week between games, you'll have to forgive Morrow if he's feeling a little anxious.

"The engine's kind of idling right now," the Pittsburgh Penguins forward said on the third of what is expected to be five or six days before the team opens the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins. "It's tough to shut it down this time of year. The games are coming fast and furious. So to sit and wait is tough for us. I guess it gives an opportunity for some little bumps and bruises to heal up. But I think everyone in the locker room's excited and ready to get started."

The schedule for the series with the Bruins has yet to be announced, so the teams have been waiting patiently since ending their respective Eastern Conference Semifinal series in five games. Pittsburgh defeated the Ottawa Senators in Game 5 this past Friday, and the Bruins eliminated the New York Rangers a day later.

"We've just got to make sure that we're focused on things in practice. We've got to take advantage of the practice time," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "We're just trying to make the most of the preparation time we have and getting ready for the series."

The layoff is long regardless of the circumstances. But in this particular lockout-shortened season, roughly six days of idle time is all the more rare. Twice since the regular season began Jan. 19 have the Penguins had more than two days off between games. Each instance involved a three-day break, one of which came between the conclusion of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.

The Penguins had two days off after eliminating the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In eliminating the Islanders and Senators, Pittsburgh played 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games in 24 days.

"Especially the way we finished the Ottawa series, we thought we were getting better and better as the series went on, so you want to keep that momentum going," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's really important to have good practices and try to get as close to game pace as you can to try to simulate that. A week off is a long time."

Coach Dan Bylsma said the Penguins utilized a drill in practice Monday they might use six to eight times during a full-length regular season but used once during this shortened 2012-13 schedule. After an off day Saturday, Pittsburgh practiced Sunday and Monday but will get the day off Tuesday.

"It is tough, especially the deeper you get, the more you're chomping at the bit to get playing," defenseman Mark Eaton said. "I think that's the case, but the one good thing is both teams are going through it. It gives us more time to recoup little injuries and just prepare more for Boston and get ready for what we have to do."

A meticulous planner, Bylsma expressed a small amount of frustration that the team must prepare for Boston without knowing when it will play the next game. Still, most coaches appreciate any extra instruction time they're afforded at this point in the season.

Throughout the postseason, unless he's had two days off between games, Bylsma commonly has called off practices or made them optional in an effort to keep bodies fresh. That also was a theme during the shortened regular season.

"We haven't had this much time practicing all year long," Bylsma said. "It's been a unique season. Our real focus is we want to stay mentally sharp and physically sharp on the ice."

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