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Penguins focused on Game 6, not repeat chance

Victory against Senators would send Pittsburgh to Cup Final for second straight season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- The opportunity in front of the Pittsburgh Penguins is historic. Their mindset, on the other hand, is grounded, laser-like, focused on finding a way to match what they expect will be a desperate opponent Tuesday.

Following an optional practice Monday, less than 24 hours after they defeated the Ottawa Senators 7-0 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series, the Penguins offered no hint that they are one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season, from having the opportunity to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Detroit Red Wings did it 19 years ago.

Game 6 is at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Sixty more minutes of strong, dominant hockey and the repeat chance will be there.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs Senators series coverage]

 

Just don't expect the Penguins to see it like that. 

"I don't think we think of it that way," center Sidney Crosby said. "We go into Ottawa with the mentality that we've got to get a win and we know it's going to be a tough one. I think everything else surrounding it is not really our focus. We just have to focus on our game and make sure we play the right way to give ourselves a chance to get one there."

It sounds boring and it is, but it's the only mindset the Penguins can have going into Ottawa. Their own experience is proof of that.

The Penguins are 2-3 in games when they can eliminate an opponent in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's three tough lessons.

They had a 3-0 lead against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and lost Game 4 before coming back to Pittsburgh to win Game 5. They had a 3-1 lead against the Washington Capitals in the second round, and lost Games 5 and 6 before winning Game 7 at Verizon Center.

"I don't think our desperation was there [against the Capitals], especially Games 5 and 6 when you look back at that series," Crosby said. "We have to learn from that and make sure it's there [Tuesday] night. As you go through the playoffs you have to get better and better and improve, and that's one area we have to make sure we improve on."

Even after those losses against the Capitals, the Penguins just focused on moving to the next game. Crosby said lineup instability might have something to do with keeping the small picture in mind.

"You don't want to get caught looking too far ahead if guys are going to be missing extended periods of time or you don't know who is going to be in the lineup," he said.

The Penguins don't know, or they're not telling if they do, if forward Patric Hornqvist or defensemen Justin Schultz and Chad Ruhwedel will be able to play in Game 6.

Video: Pens pound Sens 7-0, take 3-2 series lead in ECF

Hornqvist, who has missed four straight games with an upper-body injury, skated on his own without equipment before practice Monday. Ruhwedel, who missed Game 5 with a concussion, also skated on his own. Schultz, who has missed the past three games with an upper-body injury, had a scheduled day off the ice.

They're all day to day, coach Mike Sullivan said.

"Just going game by game helps you focus," Crosby said. "I think we evaluate our game pretty honestly regardless of a win or a loss. I think that can help with consistency in general."

What also helps is understanding what you're up against. The Penguins don't for a second think the Senators will still be reeling from the blowout in Game 5 when they take the ice Tuesday.

Momentum doesn't exist from game to game in the playoffs, especially when the opponent is facing elimination.

"It's about how you play the next game," Crosby said. "You don't get to the Eastern Conference Final without having the ability to bounce back. We know [Tuesday] night is going to be their best game and it has to be our best as well."

As in better than Game 5? A scary thought, indeed.

The Penguins think they can be better than they were Sunday, when they had a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes, 5-0 after 40 and 7-0 at the end. They were 3-for-3 on the power play and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill. They outshot the Senators 36-25.

"We might not win by 7-0 but there's always things we can do better," left wing Carl Hagelin said. "There were a few lapses in the second where we gave them entry to our zone a little bit too easy and gave up a few chances. Overall we played a good game. We have to focus on playing a better game."

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