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Pens well suited as road warriors

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pens have earned a playoff berth for 13 consecutive seasons, the longest current streak in the NHL and a franchise record. 

When the puck drops on Wednesday night for Game 1 of the First Round on Long Island, it will be just the third time in those 13 years that the Pens will begin the postseason on the road. 

Playing in hostile environments is nothing new for Pittsburgh. After all, the team traveled to "friendly" venues in Washington, Philadelphia and Columbus over the past few years. 

But playing at Nassau Coliseum (NYCB Live) will still be a unique experience. 

The atmosphere will be electric as Wednesday will be the first playoff game at the Coliseum since 2016. And the relatively small size of the building enhances the crowd noise. 

Anyone that remembers the Pens' first-round series against the Islanders in 2013 can attest to the tremor-inducing volume. 

"It's a loud building," captain Sidney Crosby said. "They play well there. It's a playoff atmosphere every time you play there in the regular season or playoffs. We already played one there already and have a good indication of how it is."

With all that being said, opening on the road may secretly be a blessing for the Pens. The team's road record this season is 21-12-8 for 50 points. That point total matched what they earned at home (23-14-4). 

Pittsburgh seems to play a more disciplined and simple game on the road. That's shown via its special teams. 

Pittsburgh ranks second in both power play (32.4 percent) and penalty kill (85.7) on the road. At home the Pens rank 20th with the man-advantage (18.3) and last in the league in penalty kill (73.6). 

"I didn't know we had a better stat on the road than at home," power-play net-front forward Patric Hornqvist said. "We just have to move the puck and take what they give us. We've been playing against this kind of kill for a long time. It's the same kill Washington had in the past three years." 

Defenseman Olli Maatta was equally baffled by the drastic results from the PK when comparing home and road numbers. 

"I honestly don't know," he remarked on the reasoning. "I heard that stat, too. We don't try to do anything different on the road than we do at home."

Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are the only players that participated in that 2013 series. But the rest of the team experienced a small taste of what to expect on Dec. 10 when the two teams squared off at NYCB Live. 

In that contest the Pens prevailed 2-1 in a shootout during their annual Dads' Trip.

"It was awesome playing there earlier in the year and I expect their playoff atmosphere to be awesome," Bryan Rust said. "That building is going to be rocking. I'm excited about it."

Being on the road offers many other advantages. There are fewer distractions surrounding the players. 

At home, there are friends, family and other responsibilities that fall on the players. Whether it's helping their children with school and activities or friends asking for tickets, there is always something happening at home. 

But on the road none of those things arise. Veteran center Matt Cullen, 42, who adores his three sons, said he uses his time on the road to catch up on sleep and recovery. 

The players tend to hole up in a hotel during the playoffs on the road. Rooms are set up for meals, treatment and even entertainment like video games. The team spends all their time together and it builds a foxhole mentality. 

Their entire life and focus comes down to just the game ahead. And that type of focus will only benefit a high-profile team like Pittsburgh. 

The previous two times the Pens opened on the road was at Ottawa (2007) and NY Rangers (2015). On both occasions the Pens were vastly overmatched and lost the series. 

That 2007 squad was filled with neophytes running into a well-oiled Senators machine that lost in the Stanley Cup Final. That 2015 team was vastly outmatched by the more talented Rangers. 

However, this time around the Pens are a veteran and battle-tested group - and one that has excelled on the road. 

Don't be surprised if this Pens team is the one who bucks that trend. 

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