Thoughts, musings and observations from the locker room prior to the Pens' Second Round Game 6 showdown against Washington.
* Pens head coach Mike Sullivan has said repeatedly over the last couple of days - both to his team and the media - that tonight is all about an attitude. He said it's a great opportunity for the Pens and they all have to embrace it as such. "I think they believe in themselves, they know they're capable," he said.
The Pens are certainly taking their coach's words to heart. They're really, really excited for the challenge ahead of them. That was evident in just how loose they were this morning. At one point during the skate, Evgeni Malkin tossed his glove at Phil Kessel and they jokingly battled with each other to retrieve it. In the locker room afterward, Patric Hornqvist laughingly called out the media for going straight to Sidney Crosby's stall to set up before he was off the ice.
This is a battle-tested group who knows it's important to stay in the moment and not get overwhelmed by the circumstance. That's such a critical part of playing at this time of year and dealing with the adversities that come up during the course of a game.
"You just go out there and make sure you're not afraid of it," Hornqvist said. "Make sure you embrace your work ethic and have fun with it. That's why we start playing hockey and that's why we're here today. Just go out there and enjoy it."
* At different points throughout this postseason, the Pens knew their desperation level wasn't quite where it needed to be. It could be the byproduct of playing so many important games over the past two-plus years, but whatever the reason, they obviously won't have to worry about manufacturing that urgency tonight in a do-or-die game.
I thought they had it in Game 5 and produced their best performance of the playoffs as a result. I expect they'll take it to another level here tonight.
"You just go out there and focus on winning one game and make sure you leave everything out there," Crosby said. "Just make sure the desperation level is there and let everything take care of itself."
* In situations like this, a lot of the Pens point to their leadership group as a big reason for their confidence. "We have a lot of good veterans that lead the way and us younger guys kind of fall in behind. We'll rely on that in Game 6," winger Conor Sheary said immediately following the Pens' 6-3 loss on Saturday in Washington.
I asked Bryan Rust what specifically it is about the Pens' leadership group that inspires such confidence.
"I think they all kind of have that calm demeanor," he said. "It seems like they've kind of been through everything. The good, the bad, the ugly. I think that helps when you've experienced those things."
* Speaking of Rust, is this his time to shine?
"I don't know," he said with a smile. "I'm going to try and go out there and play hard."
Mr. Elimination does tend to bring his best game in these scenarios. He's got 10 goals in 17 career elimination games, including one in Game 6 against Philadelphia in the First Round. Rust scored three times in that series, but he's been held off the scoresheet so far in this series.
"Maybe a little bit more finish," Rust said when asked how he could be better. "Maybe a little bit more of an offensive mindset. I'm playing well defensively, using my feet, trying to check well. I think play a little bit more on the offensive side of the puck."
* Defenseman Kris Letang took the blame for the miscommunication between he and partner Brian Dumoulin that led to the Capitals' Game 5 game-tying third-period goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov.
On the play, Dumoulin was gapping up on his side of the ice. Letang was attempting to shadow Alex Ovechkin, but as he followed Ovechkin's pathway Letang vacated his spot on the right side. Both Dumoulin and Letang ended up on the same side of the ice and allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov free reign to take a pass, go in on goal for a breakaway and tie the game.
"I made a mistake, that's it," Letang said. "It should not happen. At the end of the day, (if) I don't make that mistake, it's anybody's game."
Afterward, Sullivan pulled Letang aside to assure him that despite the gaffe the team still believes in him. And the team needs him.
"I told him how important he is to our team and how good he is," Sullivan said. "He's helped this team win a lot of games. He's helped this team win championships. That's the player we know and love."
"It's a game of mistakes. Everybody makes them," Sullivan continued. "It's about reacting the right way. It's about responding the right way. It's important to put them behind you and looking forward to the next opportunity."
* Overall, the Pens were really happy with their performance in Game 5. It might have been their best effort of the entire postseason and they still didn't get the result. It's tough to stomach, but the Pens are confident if they limit the Caps' quality chances, they'll get the result they need. Which, at the end of the day, is all that matters at this time of year.
"I think they capitalized on those chances they got there in the end," Hornqvist said. "Dumo came down the pike there and 10 seconds later Ovechkin made a hell of a play to their guy and they score (the game-winner). That's the hockey game.
"The other game we lost there at home, (Nicklas) Backstrom and Ovechkin came down on a 2-on-1 with one minute left. We just have to cut those chances down a little bit and other than that, I think we're playing pretty good."