Recent history has a chance to repeat itself for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they get set for Game 6 of their quarterfinals matchup with the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place.
Just one season ago the Penguins held a 3-1 series lead on the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the postseason as Pittsburgh looked to close out their archrival on Mellon Arena ice in Game 5. However, instead of the Penguins celebrating and advancing it was Philadelphia which stormed into Pittsburgh and skated off with a 3-0 victory that extended the series to a sixth game two days later at the Wachovia Center.
Momentum seemed to be on the Flyers’ side, especially when Daniel Briere scored 4:06 into the second period to stake the orange and white to what appeared to be a commanding 3-0 Game 6 lead.
But one “Shhhhhhhh” and five goals later it was the Penguins who had the last laugh, storming all the way back from a huge deficit to knock their biggest rivals out of the postseason, 5-3, at a juncture in the series when everyone thought maybe Pittsburgh’s failure to close out the Flyers on home ice would allow the Broad Street Bullies to seize momentum and pull the carpet up from under the Penguins.
One year later the Penguins face an almost identical predicament.
The Senators came into Pittsburgh and stole Game 1, 5-4, before the Penguins ripped off three straight wins to take what seemed to be a commanding 3-1 opening-round lead for the second consecutive season. But much like they did last year, the Penguins dropped Game 5 at the Igloo, this time in heartbreaking fashion, 4-3 in triple overtime, to necessitate a Game 6 at Scotiabank Place.
While the Penguins naturally would have preferred to wrap things up on Thursday, that experience they gained in 2009 has the team in the perfect mindset as they prepare for Saturday. A win in Game 6 would mark the fifth-consecutive series the Penguins have clinched on the road, including a 6-2 Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals in round two last year, which came just two days after the Capitals also prevented the Penguins from wrapping up the series on home ice.
“Yes, I think it is good that we have been through it (before),” Marc-Andre Fleury
said at the team hotel in Ottawa on Friday afternoon. “We know that it doesn’t matter that we didn’t do it (Thursday). We have to stay confident and focused so that we can do it on Saturday and we should be alright.”
“It’s a new year, obviously,” Matt Cooke
said. “We just have to go in there, restart and refocus and make sure that we get to our game. You have to stay with it. You are going to have your ups and downs in a game and in a series. I think that trying to find an even keel is the best way to approach it.”
Speaking of approaches, the Penguins know exactly what Ottawa’s will be in Game 6 – desperation – which is precisely how the Senators came out for Game 5 as well.
Except this time the Penguins won’t be caught off guard by just how hungry the Senators will be as Ottawa’s playoff life continues to hang precariously by a thread. Pittsburgh already witnessed firsthand just how desperate the Senators can be with their backs against the wall during the opening 11 minutes of Game 5 when the Senators quieted the Mellon Arena faithful by jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead.
As a whole the Penguins believed that start was the difference which allowed Ottawa to eventually secure the overtime victory, and the stats certainly back up that claim.
During the first period Ottawa outshot the Penguins, 10-9, and outscored them, 2-1. Over the next 87:06 minutes the two teams each tallied twice, but it was Pittsburgh which dominated the majority of the play, which their 50-34 shots advantage belies. In fact, only a strong postseason starting debut by Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire prevented the Penguins from wrapping up the series despite the tough start.
“There are areas of our game where we didn’t play particularly well especially during the first period,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We need to sure those up and we have to do better in those areas and get the scoring chances down for Ottawa. … We know we have to start better than Game 5.”
“They will be playing at home and they are going to come out hard,” Gonchar said. “They will be trying to do everything they can to extend this series. We have to make sure we are ready for it.”
Gonchar said the Penguins will be ready for the Senators because unlike those pundits who wrote off the Senators after the Penguins outscored them 13-7 in winning Games 2-4, Pittsburgh knows Ottawa is still a very strong team despite a rash of injuries which has decimated their roster.
“We knew going into this series that they are playing really well,” said Gonchar of the Senators, who finished the season on a 7-2-1 roll. “If you would have told me beforehand that (we would be up) 3-2 in the series, that would have been fine with me. (Thursday) was a tough one but I thought that we played well. … We did a lot of things well.”
Thursday was Thursday and Saturday is Saturday. That is the frame of mind championship teams have this time of year. As the Penguins strive to be a championship squad for the second straight summer captain Sidney Crosby
knows leaving the past in the past and focusing on the future is the No. 1 key to for Game 6.
“This is a new situation and one where you have to find a way where we are at our best,” Crosby said. “I think that is the most important thing. A little experience always helps. We have to make sure we turn the page here.”