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Battle for the Seventh Man

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
While the Penguins may have clinched a postseason berth, there’s still one more thing they’re battling for in their last three games.

Pittsburgh currently holds a 100-99 point advantage over the fifth-ranked Tampa Bay Lightning in the race for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage, and each team has three games remaining.

The Penguins’ magic number of points to clinch home-ice advantage over the Lightning – the only club that can catch No. 4 Pittsburgh at this point – is six.

So while the Penguins have assured themselves no worse than the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, they’re still going to be battling fiercely for the chance to kick off the postseason with their own fans behind them.

“I think everyone wants the solace of starting at home in the playoffs and having a possible Game 7 at home,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.

“We know if we win all three (remaining) games we will hold home-ice. We have that focus going into (Tuesday)’s game, winning this game and making sure we put ourselves in a position to keep home-ice.”

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury knows how helpful having the seventh man on the ice can be from his past experiences – especially with the do-or-die playoff mentality.

“I think we’ve seen it in the past in the playoffs, how big it is, how big of an advantage it is to start the series with a win or a couple wins,” he said. “I think we have to play hard to make sure we get that lead.”

But what’s special about this Penguins squad is that while home-ice advantage is certainly desirable, it won’t make or break the series.

In order to be successful in this league, a team has to find ways to win no matter what arena they’re playing in – and that’s exactly what Pittsburgh has done this season.

Bylsma pointed out that while his team is tied for first in the East and second in the league with 24 home wins, their 22 road wins is just as impressive.

“We do feel comfortable in our building, but at the same time, good teams need to find ways to win on the road,” forward Pascal Dupuis said. “So I think that’s what we’ve done this year.”

Dupuis jokingly pointed out that the Penguins were almost forced to win on the road out of necessity, due to their rocky start at CONSOL Energy Center that saw them go 2-5 in their first seven games in their new arena.

“It’s a matter of finding your own pregame routine, finding where in the room you want to hang out that gets you ready,” he said of the adjustment process. “It was such a difference between Mellon and here. ... Everything was new.”

“Maybe we’re a little mental, hockey players,” he joked, adding, “But you need to find what works.”

While it may have taken some time, the Penguins have certainly found their comfort level in their new digs – and can’t believe the inaugural season is one game from being in the books.

“It’s crazy,” Fleury said. “It’s a long season, sometimes it gets tough, but it’s pretty crazy we’re there already. It just flew by so quick.”

“It flew by,” Dupuis said. “It’s our last home game, but we know we’ll come back here in front of our fans in playoffs and this building’s going to be rocking.”
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