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Let's Get Physical

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins and Lightning are hours away from Game 2, but there’s still one moment from Wednesday’s Game 1 that’s at the front of everyone’s mind.

That’s the bone-crunching hit by Brooks Orpik on the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos just 90 seconds into the game.

“Playoffs have that storyline to it,” head coach Dan Bylsma said of Orpik’s hit setting the tone. “There’s going to be physicality, raised emotions, raised intensity level. Every playoff picture from year to year, a team has that picture of the physicality that gets raised up. You can go back to (Chris) Kunitz on (Kimmo) Timmonen two years ago. (Wednesday) night was a picture of that. It was physical all around.”

But while Orpik’s hit on Stamkos was certainly worthy of the highlight reels, the Penguins managed to keep that aggressive edge through the remaining 58:30 minutes of play, setting the tone and wearing the Lightning down.

That physicality factor is essential throughout the series against a squad like the Lightning whose strength lies in their offensive firepower. If the Penguins are continually crunching their forwards into the glass, they don’t have time and space to make a play, and that’s where they’re dangerous.

“They have that top-end skill with (Stamkos) and Vinny (Lecavalier) and (Martin) St. Louis,” forward James Neal said. “So as physical as we can be on them, we’ve got to make them pay as much as possible to get them away from their game.”

Kunitz agreed: “Guys that play lots of minutes, if the body’s on them and they have to get up or stop the momentum, that type of stuff, that it definitely wears people down over the course of a series. It may not happen in one or two shifts, but we’ve got to play the same way.”

Orpik has been to two Stanley Cup Finals with the Penguins, and he knows from experience just how important the physicality factor is in wearing down the opposition in what can be a draining seven-game series.

“We got a lot of guys that like to play physical,” he said. “You can go up and down our lineup. I think it was just kind of the cumulative effect of everyone, just staying on the body. Even in the last shift of the game, you see (Mike Rupp) run (Victor) Hedman into the boards. I think that wears on you as the game goes on. And as the series go on, you try to play that way.”

While the Lightning technically outhit them during Game 1 by a 44-35 margin, the Penguins picked their spots to lay the body, playing aggressive yet disciplined hockey, taking just one penalty during the game to Tampa Bay’s six.

“The physicality was there,” Bylsma said. “Our guys did a good job of staying within the confines of playing defense and trying to deny them the net that they did a good job of getting to.”

But the Penguins weren’t completely satisfied with the number of chances that Tampa Bay’s forwards got around the blue paint, and they plan on being proactive in keeping the Lightning from camping out in front of Fleury tonight.

“Playing defense early is something that we’re focused on,” Bylsma said. “Not letting a player go unimpeded from the corner to the front of the net and then trying to play defense, because trying to play defense or pushing Ryan Malone out of the crease once he gets there is not really an option. He’s going to put the tripod up and be there and be a factor.”

The Penguins know that the Lightning will be upping the desperation factor and battle level to a whole new level tonight in hopes of avoiding a 2-0 hole. They’re ready for whatever Tampa Bay plans to throw at them tonight, because they desperately want that 2-0 series lead.

“They’ll come out hard,” forward Pascal Dupuis said. “They don’t want to go back home 0-2. At the same time, we know how important this game is and we’ll just play our same game, see how they come out and we know how we’re going to come out.”

Center Jordan Staal agreed.

“Every game in the playoffs is a desperate game, but I think it’s a pretty important game,” he said. “1-1 or 2-0 sounds quite a bit different, and it’d be nice for us to get the two (wins). We’re definitely going to have to come out strong, I know they’re going to have a better effort tonight.”
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