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3 Things: Anticipation Builds, Marino's Debut and More

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Here are the 3 biggest takeaways from the Penguins' Friday in Toronto, where they practiced at 2:30 p.m. at Ford Performance Centre.

1. Anticipation at an all-time high

The Penguins are just over 24 hours away from playing their first real hockey game since March 11. So much has happened in the months that have passed since, and it almost feels surreal that it is actually happening. But it is happening, and the players are more motivated than ever for the opportunity ahead of them now that it's finally here.

"It's been a long wait," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "A lot of anticipation built up over those months not knowing what was going to happen. But we're here, we're excited. We worked hard to get to this point. It's fun, and we're excited to play meaningful hockey."

The Penguins' quest for the Stanley Cup officially begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday, when the puck drops for their Qualifying Round series against Montreal. There are about a million well-documented different storylines going into it, from within the matchup itself and everything outside of it - including life in the bubble, no fans in the stands, the ice conditions, a shorter series… the list goes on and on.

And while the experienced Penguins are aware of all that, Patric Hornqvist said their biggest focus going into Game 1 is just having the right mindset.

"It's playoffs. Whatever happens, we just have to stick with it and go out there and play and enjoy it, too," he said. "We're all here for a reason, we're here for playing hockey. We love playing hockey. The Stanley Cup is on the line. We're all excited. It's going to be a great hockey fest for the whole league. We're ready to go tomorrow."

2. Marino ready for NHL playoff debut

On July 26, 2019, the Penguins announced that they had acquired defenseman John Marino from Edmonton in exchange for a conditional 2021 sixth-round pick. 

It was a trade that didn't make a ton of headlines at the time, as Marino was a relative unknown out of Harvard, but one that Penguins scouts were thrilled about. The coaching staff soon learned why after he reported for training camp in September.

"Our scouts had raved about him and given us great information about his talent, his maturity, his ability to play in the National Hockey League," said Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin, who is in charge of the defensemen. "But it was the first opportunity for us to see him at camp. We were impressed as a coaching staff to see his poise on the ice, his decision-making, his quickness, his ability to react to different situations."

Marino made the opening-night roster, and now - just over a year later - he has developed into a key member of the Penguins' blue line. At times it can be hard to believe this will mark Marino's NHL postseason debut, considering the maturation and poise that he plays with at just 23 years old.

"I think the year that he's had has given him a great experience," Martin said. "He's kept learning. He's the type of player that keeps improving. Not only is he good defensively as far as defending and capable of playing against the top units, we like how he's improved on his offensive skill."

Marino plans on approaching his NHL playoff debut the same way he approached his NHL debut.

"I think it's kind of similar circumstances," he said. "So kind of deal with it like that and just know the guys are going to have a lot more energy. In the end, you just go out there and play your game and the rest takes care of itself."

3. Workflow

The Penguins had full attendance at their skate. They used the same lines and D-pairs as they did on Tuesday against Philadelphia.

Guentzel-Crosby-Sheary

Zucker-Malkin-Rust

Marleau-McCann-Hornqvist

Aston-Reese-Blueger-Tanev

Dumoulin-Letang

Pettersson-Marino

Johnson-Schultz

BONUS: No goalie decision announced yet

The media made a valiant effort to get Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan to divulge his starting goaltender for Game 1. He didn't bite.

"I will make that decision and share that on game day," he said.

Stay tuned.

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