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Pens use speed to counter Jackets' physicality

by Bryanna McDermott @Penguins / Pittsburgh Penguins

"Just play."

This phrase has been tossed around the Penguins locker room an abundance of times since Pittsburgh began its Stanley Cup quest last season, but now head coach Mike Sullivan's team mantra will face the ultimate test as the Pens face off against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena. 

The Blue Jackets bring grit and unfiltered physicality to the ice, something Pens defenseman Ian Cole is extremely familiar with, as he spent over four seasons with the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference.

"They're always a very tough team to play against," Cole said. "We had some wars with this team and being here in Pittsburgh hasn't changed that. They're a very well coached team and a very disciplined team as far as their structure goes. It's going to be a challenge tonight, but the rivalry is certainly there and they're a team we want to beat and move on."

While matching Columbus' physicality may seem like the easy answer, the tone in the Pens' locker room is steering more toward being physical, without losing touch of their speed.

"They like to get in on the forecheck and really kind of bang us, but I don't think we necessarily have to match their physicality," Cole said. "I just think that we need to play the way we want to play. The physicality will certainly be a part of the game plan, but the ability to continue to play 'Penguins hockey' and play through that physicality is more important than trying to match their physicality."

The Jackets aren't hiding the fact that their game plan is to punish the Pens, particularly the defensemen.

"It wears on a team's defense core every time you go back for a puck you're going to get hit, you're going to get rubbed out," Columbus forward Scott Hartnell said. "We want to make it a hard 60 minutes. Every time they go back for a puck we're going to get a lick on them."

Trevor Daley, who rejoined the team for the last two games of the regular season after missing 20 games due to knee surgery, is more focused on quick puck movement to send the Pens' speedy forwards to the net.

"Just stick to our game," Daley said when asked what strategy he was taking into Game 1. "We know teams are going to try and be physical against us. The quicker we can get back, the quicker we can get the pucks up to our forwards, the faster we're going to be."

Columbus proves to be a tough matchup for Pittsburgh, but the Pens are ready to "just play" as they begin their stride for a repeat.

"They're a team that's going to be a challenge to play against for a seven-game series, but I think it's something this team is excited for and this team is ready for," Cole said. "Everyone is excited, it's playoff hockey."

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