PITTSBURGH - Despite holding a two-game lead, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma knows his team is heading into the eye of the storm.
That would be the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., for Saturday's Game 3 (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).
"No matter what happens, we're going to try and play the same way regardless of the score and situation and where the series is at," Bylsma said. "Our team has been good at that and we have to be prepared for Game 3 because they will play their best game of the series. We need to anticipate the hostile crowd and the environment that's going to be created for us. It's just a matter of playing our game for 60 minutes while trying to take those other things out of that scenario."
While it won't be easy, the Penguins have survived their share of hostile environments, going 4-3 on the road so far in the postseason, with two wins in Philadelphia and two in Washington, including a 6-2 dusting of the Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern semis on May 9.
"I think it's a test playing on the road because it's tough to communicate and you make mistakes," Bylsma said. "When your team breaks the puck out, the crowd starts to cheer, the momentum shifts take place and it's tough to keep your cool, tough to keep your composure. So having gone through that experience in Philly and Washington, our team has experienced the craziness. And we'll get it again with their fans."Sidney Crosby
is confident the Pens will stick to their game plan on the road as they have all season. The Penguins split their two games at RBC Center this season, winning 5-2 on Dec. 4 in coach Paul Maurice's first game back behind the Carolina bench and suffering a 3-2 overtime loss on April 4.
"Carolina is a great atmosphere and I even remember it being loud during the regular season," Crosby said. "The fans really get pumped up and the building is rocking so we'll just have to play our game and we'll be fine."
Bylsma, whose team held an optional skate Friday afternoon, doesn't anticipate a warm welcome in Raleigh.
"I know when we're driving in, the fans are gearing up for the game on the lawn," Bylsma said. "It's a great place to play for them and we're going to have to deal with it. It's about trying to play the right way by getting pucks into the offensive zone. We were able to do it in Philly and Washington and now we'll have to do it again."
"It's an important game for us and if we play well on the road, we'll be all right," Pens defenseman Hal Gill said. "We just need to come out with the same intensity level we've shown in previous road games and similar to what we showed in the third period of (Game 2). We took the game over in that period and have to do the same thing from the outset on Saturday."
One aspect of Carolina's Game 2 plan that surprised Gill was the speed with which Carolina entered their zone. That was made possible when Maurice inserted Chad LaRose with Eric Staal and Ray Whitney on the top line while Scott Walker and Jussi Jokinen flanked captain Rod Brind'Amour on another.
"They changed their game plan a little bit and came to the net a little harder and I don't think we quite anticipated that," Gill said. "But I think we're ready for it now. I just think, as a team, Carolina was more focused on getting it to the net a little more and they seemed to play with a little more desperation, so they crashed the net and got it there."
Still, Bylsma has been proud of his team's resolve throughout the playoffs. The Pens stuck with the game plan even after the Hurricanes tied it 76 seconds after Pittsburgh's first goal and 25 seconds after its second. The visitors would even gain their first lead of this series at the 12:10 mark of the first period. But in the end, Crosby, Evgeni Malkin
and the rest of the Penguins provided some playoff magic of their own.
"We were tested in Game 6 in Philadelphia and we had to find out how we were going to respond, and at times in the series, we knew we had to get better in that area," Bylsma said. "We were looking at possibly going into a Game 7 with fans that were loud and rambunctious and taunting us and our players in that particular game really did a good job of playing the same way. They kept talking about it on the bench. It wasn't just one guy who took it into his own hands; it was shift after shift."Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer