Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Pens' Friday afternoon practice at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
1. Optional skate
It was an optional skate for the Pens. Participating were Sidney Crosby, Jared McCann, Nick Bjugstad, Garrett Wilson, Teddy Blueger, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz, Zach Trotman, Erik Gudbranson, Marcus Pettersson and Casey DeSmith. The healthy players that took the option will likely participate in Saturday's morning skate.
None of the injured players skated with the team. Pens head coach Mike Sullivan said that Zach Aston-Reese (lower-body, 12 games missed) and Chad Ruhwedel (upper-body, 18 games missed) skated this morning. Brian Dumoulin (lower-body, two games missed) did not, but Sullivan said he is progressing.
Finally, Sullivan said that Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang responded fine and felt strong after returning to the lineup following injury absences in Pittsburgh's 4-1 win over Detroit on Thursday.
2. Taking a moment
With the victory, the Pens officially clinched their 13th-consecutive berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"It's difficult to make the playoffs," Sullivan said. "It's hard. There's a lot of good teams. There's going to be good teams that don't make the playoffs. Every year there is. And so with the parity in the league, it's not an easy feat year in and year out."
While the Pens still have a lot to play for in their regular-season finale Saturday against the New York Rangers (more on that in a minute), they certainly all earned the right to take a moment last night and celebrate their accomplishment.
"Everyone has their own feeling," Crosby said. "Some guys expect it and some guys are experiencing it for the first time. It just depends. I appreciate it more now than I have in the past knowing how difficult it is to get there, how much fun it is to play in the playoffs and what those games mean. I think everybody is different, sees it different. It's an expectation, but at the same time experience doesn't guarantee anything or the fact that you've won before. So it's difficult to get there and you appreciate the opportunity to play in it."
McCann is one of those players who is experiencing it for the first time.
"I'm pumped," he said. "It's hard to sleep at night right now, to be honest with you. This is my first time playing in the playoffs in the NHL and I just want to do well and help the team as much as I can."
Erik Gudbranson has made the playoffs just twice in his eight-year NHL career, once in 2012 and again in 2016, both with Florida, who didn't advance past the First Round either year.
While Gudbranson said he usually tries to keep his emotions as controlled as possible, he admitted that he couldn't contain his excitement last night.
"I went home and pinched myself, it's been a while since I've been there," he said. "I was definitely really excited about it. I had a moment at home by myself and it was like, 'Sweet, this is unreal.' I was talking to my mom last night and was like 'YES!' I had that moment."
3. Task ahead
Pittsburgh currently sits in the No. 3 position in the Metro Division. But, depending on how things shake down on Saturday, three possibilities exist on seeding for the Pens in Round One.
The Pens will find themselves in one of three following scenarios (click here for the full breakdown):
* No. 2 seed in Metro: home-ice in First Round vs. NY Islanders
* No. 3 seed in Metro: begin First Round at NY Islanders
* No. 1 Wild Card seed: begin First Round at Washington
As Sullivan and his players all said, there is still a lot to play for, so they'll be taking the ice with the same urgency and desperation that they've had for the last month or so as they battled to get in.
"You've had to play that way for so long that I think at this point it's the mentality we go out with, and that's a good thing," Crosby said. "I think that's something that helps when you're going into the playoffs. It's one more game and an opportunity to move up, so I think there's a lot of motivation but I think that mentality is still kind of engrained there because all the games we had to play in that situation."
Also, because of what's at stake, Sullivan said they don't plan on resting anyone for the finale.
"With all this talk about the playoffs we have one game left here in the regular season that we're certainly not going to overlook," Sullivan said. "We understand the importance of this one coming up tomorrow and we have to make sure we take advantage of the opportunity."