After Pittsburgh’s 2-1 overtime setback to New York in Game 4 on Wednesday that gave the Rangers a 3-1 series lead in their opening-round matchup and put the Pens on the brink of elimination, head coach Mike Johnston said he wanted his players to go home, rest and get their energy back so they would be ready to put the disappointment behind them and start preparing for Friday's Game 5 when they returned to the rink this morning.
And after a light off-ice workout, captain Sidney Crosby met with reporters at his locker stall on Thursday before the team flew to New York City – ready to face the challenge ahead.
“We’ve got to go there and win one,” he said. “That’s the reality of it. Everyone’s been in different situations before; obviously we’ve been on the other side of it last year against the same team. We know kind of what comes with that scenario, now being on the other side of it too. I think the reality is we’ve just got to go there and win one and have our best game of the year.”
Crosby, who will be playing his 100th career playoff game tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden, has been through a lot in his postseason career. And watching the Rangers win Game 7 to erase a 3-1 series deficit in the clubs’ Second Round matchup less than a year ago was his most recent learning experience.
Crosby said his biggest takeaway from that is always treating each game as its own separate entity and not part of a bigger series, which is what they will do tomorrow.
“You can’t get caught looking too far ahead no matter what side you’re on,” he said. “For us, we can’t look at it as having to win three games in a series. We have to make sure that our mentality and focus is to go there and win one.
“The great news for us is that we don’t have to change a whole lot. It’s not like we have to scramble and make adjustments and do different things. We’ve done a lot of good things. We just have to find a way to get a win and get home (for Game 6).”
Crosby’s right – overall, the Pens have been solid throughout what’s been a tight, competitive series. Though the Rangers finished the regular season as the NHL’s top team, they haven’t been especially dominant. As goalie Marc-Andre Fleury put it, “they’re not killing us out there. Every game has been close.”
All four have been decided by one goal, and one area Crosby feels could give the Pens the edge they need is the power play. The second unit came through with two big goals in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 win in Game 2 last Saturday, and on Wednesday it looked like it was the first unit’s turn to break out.
But despite all of the incredible puck movement by Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and Patric Hornqvist that created chances and momentum and their ability to gain the zone and hold it, especially on their pair of first-period man-advantages, they just couldn’t finish and let two chances to build a 2-0 lead slip away.
“Our power play’s got to find a way, if we get a lead, to get that next one,” Crosby said. “I think you look at last game, it would’ve helped a lot to get that next one on the power play. They’re a pretty aggressive penalty kill, so we really have to make sure we execute.
“So whether that’s making a couple good passes to give ourselves a good look, whether it’s an open shot or an open pass, sometimes it’s keeping it simple. But I think in the case of last night, we’ve just got to make a couple plays in a row that allow us to really settle things down and not allow them to pressure too much.”
Crosby put the team on his back and carried them to a win in Game 2 with a huge two-goal effort. He’s hoping to repeat that performance tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
“You go out there every game in the playoffs, you leave it all out there,” he said. “It’s plain and simple. Everyone knows how important it is and it’s the best time of year to be playing, so I think everybody, including (myself and Malkin), goes out there and does our best. But with bigger games, you want to make sure you raise your level and find a way to help your team win and that’s exactly what we’ll try to do."