Though Pittsburgh clinched a postseason berth weeks ago and the Rangers clinched both the Atlantic Division title and the top seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, the Penguins still have one thing left to fight for in their last two games – home-ice advantage.
Pittsburgh currently holds a 104-101 point advantage over fifth-ranked Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage. The Penguins’ magic number of points to clinch home-ice advantage over the Flyers is two.
And though there’s a number of scenarios that would ensure Pittsburgh can do just that, the easiest and most emphatic way would be with a win over the Rangers tonight at CONSOL Energy Center.
“It would be great to be able to do that,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “We’ve got two games and we want to do it now. We want to make sure we take advantage of the opportunity. That would be our objective here tonight.
“I think for us, that is something that is on our mind these last couple games and making sure we do that. We love playing (in Pittsburgh). We have great fans and it gives us a lot of energy. I think it would be to our advantage to be able to do that.“
I think for us, that is something that is on our mind these last couple games and making sure we do that. We love playing (in Pittsburgh). We have great fans and it gives us a lot of energy. I think it would be to our advantage to be able to do that. - Sidney Crosby, on clinching home-ice advantage
The Penguins have settled into their beautiful building in its second season, entering tonight’s game tied for the NHL’s fourth-best home record – and the top mark in the Eastern Conference. Their 27 home victories are the third-highest total in team history (1995-96, 32 wins; 1992-93, 31 wins).
They’ve gone on some impressive stretches here at CONSOL Energy Center, including a 10-game home winning streak from Feb. 21 to March 25. Since Jan. 17, the Penguins have gone 16-3 in their last 19 home games.
So while home-ice advantage usually doesn’t make or break a series, there is something to be said for starting a series in the comforts of a place they’re familiar with for those all-important first two games, not to mention the all-important Game 7 if necessary.
“We’ve played well at home and had good stretches here,” forward Chris Kunitz
said. “It’s never a guarantee, but it’s definitely nice if you can open up the first two games at home. It makes it a little easier when you go on the road, just trying to steal one and then maybe securing it up at home. It’s definitely an important thing to get home-ice.”
And to be able to start a series in front of their fans – who have sold out the building for 249 straight games entering tonight – is absolutely a motivation for the players.
“We’re going to rely on those fans in the playoffs, especially to create that home-ice advantage,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek
said. “They’re great fans. They support us no matter what and they are behind us. We always know we can count on them and we appreciate their support. It’s amazing to see the whole city behind us and feel that support from everybody. Hopefully we can make them happy with some good hockey and hopefully go all the way.”