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Penguins Play Their Own Brand of Toughness

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Flyers have the reputation of being a tough team. But the Pittsburgh Penguins are also a tough team. It just depends on how you define the word “tough.”

“Toughness is if you can go out and play your game the way you want to play it and not be deterred from it; then you’re being tough,” Penguins interim head coach Dan Bylsma said.

Pittsburgh dictated the play in the first two games, winning both to take a 2-0 series lead. But Pittsburgh dropped Game 3 in Philadelphia after the Flyers got the Penguins off their game and involved in some post-whistle scrums.

“It was disappointing in the way we played,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “The frustration level was pretty evident with the stuff after the whistle. In the first two games we were smart enough to skate away from (that) and (Sunday) we fell victim to it and fell right into their plan.”

Bylsma wants the Penguins to concentrate less on the fights and scrums and more on sticking to their guns. You can almost see the image of Herb Brooks at the Miracle on Ice yelling to his Team USA players, “Play your game!”

“I didn’t start this series trying to be the tougher team,” Bylsma said. “I started out to win four games and play our game. Part of that is being physical and part of that is dictating the pace of the play and where it’s at. We know how to do that. We know that we need to do that more. We didn’t get to do that enough in Game 3 and as a result the Flyers got to their game more. Toughness is not something that allows you to win the game. If you play your game and execute, then you’re a tough team. That’s what we’re focused on.”

The Penguins have matched the Flyers physical play in the series. In fact, Pittsburgh has outhit Philadelphia by a 98-95 margin. That couldn’t have been more evident than when forward Chris Kunitz leveled Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen in the first period of Game 3. Kunitz’s check lifted Timonen into the air and he landed on his head and shoulders.

“Sid(ney Crosby) was pressuring pretty hard; the puck bobbled and I just came down to finish the check,” Kunitz said. “It looked probably worst than it really was. (Timonen) pulled away and then spun out.”

Flyers forward Scott Hartnell retaliated by following Kunitz up the ice and forcing a spar between the two.

“You expect a team to react,” Kunitz said. “(Hartnell) is a character guy on their team. He was looking to protect his teammate. That’s what good teams do. They go in there and stick up for each other. It’s nothing I didn’t expect. That’s the way hockey goes.”

Pittsburgh wants to establish its toughness by its play and part of its play, as Bylsma said, is being physical. The Penguins haven’t shied away from contact this series. Orpik leads the NHL in postseason hits with 19. He had 14 hits in Game 2 alone. Meanwhile, Matt Cooke (11) and Kunitz (11) are tied for seventh most.

“You just go and play hard, try to finish your checks,” Kunitz said. “We’ve been trying to do that all series on their D and try to wear them down.”

But the Penguins want to focus on keeping their physical game quarantine to during the play and not after the play.

“It’s the playoffs; there’s a lot of physical play; there’s a lot of hitting out there,” Crosby said. “You have to get out of there. When somebody on your team gets an extra hit or is dragged into a scrum it’s hard not to help someone out. We have to go whistle to whistle. We know (the scrum) type of game and we don’t want to play it. We’ make sure we focus on going whistle to whistle.”

It takes a lot to restrain yourself if you’re getting a face wash. You want to push the guy back. But it’s something for the overall good of the team. You can’t be selfish and take unnecessary penalties and spend too much time in the box. We can’t hurt ourselves. - Chris Kunitz
“It takes a lot to restrain yourself if you’re getting a face wash,” Kunitz said. “You want to push the guy back. But it’s something for the overall good of the team. You can’t be selfish and take unnecessary penalties and spend too much time in the box. We can’t hurt ourselves.”

And that’s the fine line that the Penguins are trying to walk. Being strong during the play but not getting pulled into the extra curricular activities.

“It’s always tough to turn the other cheek and walk away,” Staal said. “It’s something that our team needs to do and try to stay out of the scrums. (Philadelphia) is a team that feeds off of that and their fans as well.”

“It’s self discipline,” Kunitz added. “You have to make sure you’re there for your teammates. You have to protect yourself but if it’s going to put us on the power play then you have to restrain yourself from getting in the scrums.

“We have to get away from the scrums and stick to our game. Play five-on-five, those types of things that benefit our style of hockey, getting better speed up ice and playing a better defensive game. That’s something we’ll focus on for Game 4.”

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