It's not that 21-year-old linemate Sidney Crosby
has taught Guerin the finer points of the game, but he's certainly given the veteran something to look forward to each day he steps on the ice.
"I can honestly say Sid's definitely done a lot for rejuvenating my career because he pushes me," Guerin said. "It's not necessarily like, 'Hey, come on, we have to get going,' but just by the way he plays. He's a guy that definitely pushes you to be better and play every shift."
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma can definitely see that enthusiasm in Guerin's game ever since he placed the savvy wing on a line with Crosby.
"I would be rejuvenated to look across and have that guy flying down the middle of the ice on my line as well," Bylsma said. "To have him kind of pushing for more as he develops and now Billy's kind of dragged into that where he's a part of that developmental process for Sid. And at 38 years old, he's become 38 years young now."
And therein lies the catch. Sure, Crosby may have been a shot of adrenaline to Guerin's career, but don't think for a second the Penguins captain hasn't been taking notes either.
"It's fun and interesting to watch both of them on a daily basis," Bylsma said. "I think right from the beginning, Billy came in and took every opportunity to rip Sid and kind of jokingly banter with him any chance he got, and that's something that a lot of guys were apprehensive about doing since he's Sidney Crosby
. But he's still young and, to Billy's credit, he spoke to him as if they had been friends forever.
"At the same time, they talk to each other about what they expect from each other and they're not shy about expressing anything in order to make their line even better," Bylsma said.
In 17 regular-season games following his arrival in Pittsburgh from the New York Islanders, Guerin had 5 goals and 12 points. Against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, he had 2 goals, including the overtime winner in Game 2, and 3 points in 6 games.
Heading into Saturday's Eastern Conference Semifinal opener against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center, Guerin brings with him 30 goals and 53 points in 111 postseason contests. More importantly, he carries a wealth of experience that the Penguins desperately sought down the stretch.
"He's the guy with the experience," Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. "He won a Stanley Cup (with the Devils in 1995) so he knows what it takes. One of the biggest things I've seen in him is that he recognizes situations very well and, sometimes, during the game or at intermission, he knows when to talk. He has that ability to recognize situations very well and speak out when he needs to and he's the guy who calms others down because he knows what it takes."
Not only is this the first season since 2006-07 that Guerin is playing meaningful games in April, but it marks only the second time in his last eight playoff appearances that his team has actually advanced beyond the opening round. It's a fact he certainly doesn't take for granted.
"Getting to the Cup Final is not easy, it's never easy," Guerin said. "Teams that have done it a number of times will tell you that. I think once you realize that it's not easy and can come to grips with the fact it will be a tough grind with a lot of ups and downs, the better you're able to deal with it and better off you'll be."
Guerin was a member of the Devils when the club played a neutral-site game against the Rangers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that was attended by one Sidney Crosby
, who was 6 at the time, in October 1993.
"When I hear stories like that, it makes me feel as though I've stuck around a long time and that's a good feeling," Guerin said.
He's also had good vibes playing alongside Crosby and Chris Kunitz
, who was acquired a few days before Guerin.
"For me it's been great playing on that line," he said. "It's a great opportunity for me and it's been a lot of fun. Sid brings everything to the table; he's great offensively and he's responsible in his own end. He plays physical when he has to and when he can, and he gives everything he has. Everyone is different and everybody has their own style, and Sid is definitely different than anybody I've ever played with. He's a special player."
For Guerin, who spent the last season-and-a-half with the Islanders, playing hockey has become fun again.
"When Billy first arrived here in Pittsburgh (at the March trade deadline), I heard him say that it was great to play meaningful games," Bylsma said. "To me, whenever you line up with Sidney Crosby
as your center, it doesn't matter what time of the year it is, that's going to be a meaningful game. Having an opportunity to complement a player like Sid is something different than Billy experienced the last couple of years, when he was looked upon to score goals. Now he's looked at as a complement to Sidney and he has embraced that role."Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer