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Penguins Report: Game Day vs. Tampa Bay (Game 1)

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Pens morning skate lines (10:37 AM).
  • Mears previews tonight's Game 1 matchup (1:44 PM).
  • The "Big Screen" has returned for the playoffs (10:28 AM).
  • The Pens are asking the fans for a "whiteout" tonight (8:30 AM).
  • A complete scouting report on the Lightning and series (8:45 AM).
  • A few Pens will be making their playoff debuts (1:52 PM).
  • History will be made (8:15 AM).
  • Coach Bylsma on playoff experience, his team’s mentality and Letang (12:19 PM).
  • Kunitz, Talbot, Staal, Fleury and Letang spit knowledge (12:57 PM).
  • Guy Boucher and Ryan Malone talk ice hockey playoffs (1:23 PM).
  • Rob Rossi brings back the Dundee hat (10:11 AM).
  • Bylsma thanks the CONSOL Energy Center ice crew (10:04 AM).
  • Cooke, N.Johnson and Tangradi skate pre-practice (9:15 AM).
  • Pens pics (10:51 AM).
  • Bolts pics (1:22 PM).
  • “Burn it till it's burned out. Turn it till it's turned out. Act up from north, west, east, south…” (8:00 AM).

5:00 PM:
On Tuesday, head coach Dan Bylsma was a guest on ESPN's "Rome is Burning" with host Jim Rome. Here is the interview:

1:52 PM:
Michelle Crechiolo talked to some of the Pens who may make their NHL postseason debuts tonight.

1:44 PM:
Throughout the postseason Steve Mears is going to be bringing you a daily video highlighting all the news that you need to know for the Pens-Bolts series.

He's going to be squeezing that in when he's not on the radio or filming for Inside Penguins Hockey. Seriously, Mearsy is everywhere. He's like the Ryan Seacrest of the Penguins front office (but minus the great hair).

1:23 PM:
Coachspeak with Lightning coach Guy Boucher…

On playoff experience and Stamkos’ postseason debut:
First of all, the playoffs in the NHL I’m sure is something very special. At the same time you have a guy like Stamkos who has played international hockey, played in really big games. He knows what it’s going to be about. For us, everybody says the playoffs are a whole new season. I don’t believe that. It’s our 83rd game of the year. We don’t have to be different. We just have to be ourselves. We’ve played a certain way for 82 games and we don’t want to change that. It goes for the player himself too, not just the team. I don’t want to put extra pressure on the kid. He’s lucky he has guys like St. Louis and Lecavalier who have not only played in the playoffs before, but have won it all. He can let them take all the pressure and he can just play his game.

On how Crosby changes the dynamic of the series if he plays:
He’ll play. That’s how we’re approaching this. We’re approaching this series as if we’re playing the best team in the league, period. These guys are really good. They’ve had a great stretch. They’re really well coached. They’re a grinding team. It’s not like they’re just using skill out there. They’ve done everything they’ve done. They work really hard and they’re tight defensively. If their best team means Sidney is on it, then that’s what we’re preparing for. We’re expecting him to play and play at his best. We have to be ready for the best team.

On entering his first NHL playoffs:
It’s my 83rd game in the NHL. I’m pretty sure the nets will be in the middle of the ice and the red line will be in the middle too. Just like we started the year, I don’t want to get caught up in all that excitement. It’s important for me and our players that we’re calm going into these playoffs. What’s good about our team right now is that we’re almost healthy for the first time all year, which gives us at least the tools possible to compete against that team. It’s not a question of confidence right now. It’s a question of being calm and knowing that we just want to be ourselves.

On Randy Jones playing:
He’s available and he played great for us. We’re certainly considering playing him tonight. I still haven’t made my decision on that. I also respect the fact that some guys have battled it out in the last part of the season. We won seven of our last eight games. He wasn’t in there and other guys were battling. I usually have a tendency to respect that. The other thing is he may benefit from some more practices with the team. Having said that I might play him tonight. I think right now we’ve got other guys who are healthy and have practiced and played for a while that are more ready to play this game tonight.

On experimenting down the stretch:
I always felt that we should get into the playoffs knowing what we’ve got. The last three weeks or month we did try a lot of things. One of the reasons was that we had guys injured. It gave me the possibility to do that. With Malone being back after two months and Downie the same, we are able to try out some lines and pairings with defensemen. We’ve done enough to know exactly what we’ve got power play, penalty kill, five-on-five, pairings and forward lines. I’m sure that team will challenge us enough and we’ll have to find other solutions.

Former Pen Ryan Malone

On being back in Pittsburgh for the playoffs:
It’s good to be back. We’re excited and looking forward to the noise tonight, it should be fun.

On if there’s any extra emotion being here for a first-round matchup:
I don’t think so. Just the playoffs in general I think has every emotion in that. That’s where all the energy is kind of concentrated. But it’ll be fun battling against some old friends, that’s for sure.

On how it’s good from a competitive side to have Crosby and Malkin out, but also disappointing in wanting to face their best:
I don't think it’s really disappointing. Obviously you want to see them get healthy and get back in the game, they’re two of the best players in the game. So you want to see them get back. But for the most part, yeah, I don't think we’re too disappointed they’re not in the lineup. We’ll take it any way we can.

On what he expects in this matchup from two even teams with similar styles:
Since really, you look at both of those guys having had those key injuries, the team has really come together and (played a) lot of one-goal games. They’re not trying to run and gun, they’re really trying to make sure they’re tight defensively and get their chances from the other team’s mistakes. They’re going to get the puck deep and grind it out, throw pucks on net, get traffic. So yeah, pretty much the same game plan. We know they’re a hardworking team, so we’re going to have to make sure we bring our A game.

On it being a long time for him to get back to this point after that emotional Game 6 loss with Pittsburgh in the 2008 Cup Finals:
It’s been a lot longer than I thought it would take. But I mean, that just goes to show there’s some older guys here as well that haven’t been in the playoffs for a long time, so you really try to cherish every moment, every second you get a chance in the postseason. So starting tonight, hopefully I have some good memories going forward.

On if he expects Fleury to give him an extra shot if he is camping out in front of the net and what he thinks it’s going to be like between them:
I don’t know, I’m going to have to start a new conversation about something we haven’t talked about before to maybe throw him off his game a little bit. Obviously I try to hang out around the net a little bit there as much as I can and get in his way so he can’t see the puck, so hopefully it's a long series for him.

On if Fleury yells at him in French or English if he is in his way:
I don’t know, sometimes he’s laughing, I don’t know what he’s doing back there. But I’m actually trying to look at the puck, I think he’s just joking around the whole time. Anything I can do to maybe not make him think about the puck would be good.

On Fleury joking about seeing his backside a lot:
My derriere, hopefully he likes it. Hopefully it’ll be right there in front of him a lot.

Gettin' it started in here like Fergie: Michelle Crechiolo

1:22 PM:
Lightning pics...

Hall of Famer Phil Esposito

Ryan "Bugsy" Malone

Roloson (left); Mike Smith (right)

St. Louis and his yellow stick (right)

12:57 PM:
Sounds heard around the locker room...

Chris Kunitz

On the playoffs finally arriving:
It’s been a long season trying to get ourselves in a position to get home ice, and that’s something we accomplished. Now the next goal is winning the Stanley Cup. We have Tampa Bay in front of us, so we have to work hard, play a good system and outwork their team over a seven-game series.

On dealing with the emotions of the playoffs:
I think there’s a little bit of that anxious moment that you want to get into the game early. The fans are going to be pretty jacked up in the new building. It’s going to be an exciting evening.

On the new building’s atmosphere:
It’s the same fans that were at the old rink, so we know they have a deep passion for the Penguins. They’re really some of the best fans in the NHL. We’re excited to have home-ice, so we’re going to go out there and try to play our best game.

On the matchup with Tampa Bay:
We definitely have to watch out for their top guys on their forward end over there. And we need to put a lot of pucks toward their goalie. We have to be really good defensively and limit turnovers, not giving them odd-man chances. It’s going to be a little bit of a back-and-forth match I’m sure. But we’re going to try to stick to our game.

Maxime Talbot

On the crowd in CONSOL Energy Center:
The crowd’s been great, especially in the last couple games. It’s been louder, and I’m really excited to see what it’s going to be like tonight.

On Ryan Malone:
He’s just a solid guy on their team. He’s playing for Tampa right now, so it’s not something we’re going to put focus on. Yes, he’s a Pittsburgh guy, so I’m sure he’s going to bring his A-game.

On how the Penguins keep their momentum going in the playoffs:
It’s the playoffs, so there are a lot of things we want to do better. Every little detail matters – puck retrieval, the forecheck and playing hard. If we do that system, we proved ourselves in the season that we can be a dangerous team. But playoffs are all about being consistent and playing the right way in Game 1, Game 2, Game 3. You finish by pushing it and you get successful.

On stepping up in the playoffs:
I’d like to think that yes I’ve been doing that, and it’s something I want to do again. You need to be prepared, you need to be focused and play your role. In the playoffs, it’s not only about the first and second line. It’s about the grinders and the guys that are going to do the little things right, and we have a lot of those kinds of guys in this dressing room. That’s what made us successful in the past and come playoff time everybody gets a little more excited, and this is what we play for.

Jordan Staal

On playing the same team several times in a row:
It’s obviously different playing the same team four times in a row, but it’s playoffs. You try to grind the team down. You’re going to face them in the next game, and you want to make an impression. You definitely need to invest in those first couple games to really hopefully make it pay off in the last couple.

On the importance of the first game:
It’s definitely and emotional time for a player. It’s also an exciting time. I think every player in here is excited to get this thing going, and they’re a little anxious. It’s going to be a great moment going on the ice, seeing the fans and being a part of the playoffs again. There’s no better feeling.

On defending Tampa’s talented forwards:
I think the biggest thing is just time and space. You just try to take that away as fast as you can and not give those players time to make plays. If you do, they kind of feel uncomfortable. You try to just get a stick on them and a body on them to try to slow them down a bit.

On the backside pressure:
I think that’s been a focus of our team for a while now. It’s a big thing for our players to get a good backcheck and pressure them into our D. You try for dumps or turnovers. That’s a big part of the way we play and it’s going to be a big part of the series.

Marc-Andre Fleury

On facing Tampa Bay’s forwards:
It’s definitely a good challenge. That’s what the strength of their team is, on the power play and in the offensive zone. It will be a good challenge to keep the puck out of the net. It will be interesting.

On still being excited for the playoffs compared to past years:
Maybe I’m not as nervous now. I’m a little more calm. I know what to expect a little more than I used to. But still, I’m pretty excited and I’m looking forward to it.

On Ryan Malone trying to screen him on defense:
We always had little battles throughout the season. It will be a little different knowing that he’s going to be there.

On how he could possibly elevate his game:
I think it doesn’t matter who we face in the playoffs. Everybody kind of steps it up a little bit. It’s always more intense. Every little play counts and matters. I have to be ready for every shot.

Kris Letang

On the emotions for the first game of the playoffs:
Right now I think it’s just like every other day, except everyone is just really excited. It felt like a regular morning skate, but I think tonight when you get to the arena and see the crowd and everything, it’s going to be when we’ll start to get a little nervous and more excited.

On the difference between playoffs and the regular season:
Obviously the intensity is going to go up. Guys are going to finish their checks. You have to expect everybody to give a second effort on every play. So you just have to raise your tempo, make sure you’re taking short shifts and playing intense for the whole game.

On stepping up his game come playoffs:
It’s the most exciting part of the year. Yes, it’s fun to play in the regular season, but what we want to do is be part of the playoffs and play during this exciting part of the year. I just try to step up my game and help my team.

Keeps the bass runnin', runnin': Tony Jovenitti

12:19 PM:
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…

On the team’s mentality now as opposed to at the start of last year’s playoffs:
The difference between this year’s mindset and last year’s is that year we had talked about how to play our game and getting to our game and we had to get there. We hadn’t proven that we could do that when the stakes were down or consistently. This year I think we’re confident and understand what we need to do, how we need to play to be at our best and give ourselves a chance to win. I think the players in our room are confident that they know exactly what that is. They’ve been there for a while. We found that and that’s what we’re going into the game with tonight.

On coaching against the same team for a long stretch:
It is a little bit different mindset game-to-game. Tendencies of teams and coaches and adjustments become a little bit different than they do in season. There’s not going to be a lot of area for surprise or secrets. There is an area to really focus on tendencies of certain players, faceoff situations, getting a real understanding of who’s going to come over the boards after power plays, after penalty kills, shifts after a goal, things of that nature. Some adjustments in-game or game-to-game are much different than when you play a team four times in a year and spread out over 82 games. It is different. There is a different focus for the coaching staff and between games as well. I think the players decide on the ice what’s going to happen in the series, but you will see some things develop in those tendencies that you can look at over the seven games.

On experience in the postseason:
Experience when you talk about players, Jordan Staal feels different right now than James Neal on our team. He’s played in a lot of games, a lot of Game 1s, a lot of series. He feels different. He’s still pretty excited to go. There’s that anticipation that every player has going into the game, but Jordan understands there’s going to be a Game 2. I’m not sure James Neal does just yet. There are differences when it comes to players. With teams, I think it does matter. You draw upon experience. Max Talbot knows he scored a big goal before. He knows going into this series that it will come down to a chance where he’ll have the puck on his stick. He knows that’s happened for him before. He knows it’s going to happen for him in this series. Teams can build that understanding. The challenge in any playoff series, and you see it in every one, is that you have to put teams in areas they’re not experienced in – even if they’ve been experienced before. You have to put teams back on their heels whether it’s in a game with your building, with the fans, with the emotions of the game or with how you’re playing. You have to try to put teams in a spot their not comfortable with even if they have experience in the past. You see even experienced teams get in areas they’re not experienced being in.

On Letang’s point production dropping:
This is not the first time I’ve had a question on if you need one player to score or be a point factor. We’re going to win this game or lose this game whether Kris Letang gets a point or not. It will be a factor on how he defends, how he plays his 22-27 minutes, how he defends against the top lines, how he executes with the puck going back. Those are going to be key factors for our team. Whether he gets a point or not doesn’t mean we’ll win the game or not. Sure it would be nice for him to have a five-point night. That would be great, but he’s got to defend and play against the other teams’ top lines, limit their time and space, use his skill and ability to help us play our game. If he does that, then that’s how he’ll help us be a good team tonight.

On assessing the Lightning over the course of the season:
They were very good at the beginning of the year, really established on what they were going to play like and how they were going to play. For a period of time, over the last 20 games, I think they’ve played really well again. They have different facets to their team. They play a smothering, swarming defense. They can give you handful I the neutral zone. They’re a quick team to get back the other way and play down low. They’re very good at that. Their power play makes them dangerous in that regard as well. Their goaltending has improved since the trade and has been a factor for them and made them a good team as well. They’re heading into the playoffs with the mindset that they’re playing close to their identity and how they need to play to be a very good team.

On an update on Crosby’s condition:
No update on Sid. Nothing has changed. He has not moved on in his progression.

On if he gets butterflies before the playoff games:
For the coaching staff, me as a coach, we spent a lot of time the last three days preparing for this series. The only thing that was difficult last night was waiting. I went to bed a lot earlier than I normally do and slept longer than I normally do because we’re prepared and ready to go. We’ve gone through the Xs and Os and now it’s just clicking off the minutes until we get this thing started. This morning you wake up with a little bit of anxious butterfly feel to you. It’s the first day of the playoffs. Whether it’s James Neal in his first game in the playoffs or Jordan Staal, whether its Guy Boucher in his first NHL playoffs or my third, I think we have that same anxiety, butterfly feel about getting that puck dropped and ready to go. I can’t wait for 7 o’clock tonight.

On Boucher’s mindset as a first-time head coach in the NHL playoffs:
I don’t feel very much different than I did my first time. I don’t want to talk like I’ve been through that many. The one thing, and I feel this way today going into this series more than I did my first, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what the story is going to be, how the story line is going to go. I don’t know if Tampa Bay or the Pittsburgh Penguins will be on top in that story line. I’m not sure I felt that way in my first series against Philadelphia two years ago. There are going to be factors in this series. Right now you can write half the story and wait to see who comes out on top of that story after Game 1 and after someone advances to the second round. The anxiety is there for me like it was the first time. The anticipation of how it’s going to play out and the different storylines as you go from Game 1 to Game 2 and Game 3, the highs and lows, the emotions of the series are going to play themselves out. I still feel like it’s my first time in that regard. I’m sure Guy is feeling some of those as well.

10:51 AM:
Pens visuals from the morning skate...

Comrie (left); Michalek (right)

Super Duper (left)

Harvard's own Craig Adams (left); Niskanen (right)

Tom Fitzgerald and Todd Reirden (right)

Rupp (left); Kennedy practices shooting off his back heel for some added drama (right)

Kovalev (left) will play in a playoff game for the Pens for the first time in three decades if my math is correct. Although I am a writer and not an engineer; Engelland (right)

10:37 AM:
All the normal Pens players are accounted for at the morning skate - including Tangradi, who is working double duty after skating this morning. Only missing players are Cooke and N.Johnson. Here is the way the lines worked out:


10:28 AM:
The "Big Screen" returns!!! Outside of Gate 2 across from CONSOL Energy Center, the Big Screen has been erected for the viewing pleasure of those who wish to take in the playoff experience and support the team. The crew is working on getting the new building ready for the 2011 postseason.

10:11 AM:
Trib Total Media beat reporter Rob Rossi is rockin' the Crocodile Dundee/Indian Jones hat for the playoffs while appearing on Penguins Live! with Steve Mears. Little known fact: Mearsy does his entire radio show with his eyes closed because he's sensitive to light (OK, I may or may not have made that last part up).

10:04 AM:
Pens head coach Dan Bylsma went on the ice to meet and thank the ice crew for getting the surface ready for the first-ever postseason game at CONSOL Energy Center.

9:15 AM:
Three Pens were on the ice for the pre-morning skate practice: Matt Cooke, Nick Johnson and Eric Tangradi.

8:45 AM:'s Michelle Crechiolo has done an amazing job of scouting the upcoming series between the Pens and Bolts. Below is everything you need to know about Tampa Bay.

8:30 AM:
Pens fans, don't forget to bring a white t-shirt with you tonight. We're expecting a "Whiteout" at CONSOL Energy Center tonight. It shouldn't be that surprising. After all, WPXI-Channel 11 warned us about this upcoming storm last week using Storm Tracker Doppler 11 Radar. Boo-ya!

8:15 AM:
Tonight is only the beginning. History will be made.

8:00 AM:
The 2011 NHL playoffs are upon us. The race for the holy grail, the Stanley Cup, begins tonight. Everything that the Pens have worked for over the last seven-plus months helped lay the foundation for the upcoming run.

The effort and energy, the sweat and exhaustion, the emotional highs and lows that the players and coaches have put into countless meetings, scouting, workouts, training, practices and games have led to this moment.

In a few short hours the puck will drop between the Pens and Lightning, officially kicking off the greatest time of the year – the Stanley Cup playoffs. Pittsburgh sets out to reclaim the grandest chalice and reach the mountaintop again.

One goal, 16 steps to get there.

The quest for ultimate glory starts tonight. So let’s get it started.

The road to the Cup starts with crashing the Lightning.

A rollin' thunder chasing the wind: Danny Smith
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