The Penguins’ Game 1 matchup with the Ottawa Senators in the quarterfinals on Wednesday had the atmosphere expected from a playoff game featuring the defending Stanley Cup champions: the crowd was loud and enthusiastic; the white out was in full force; the outdoor screen attracted the Penguins faithful; and the game action was intense.
But Penguins forward Mike Rupp couldn’t watch the game. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about the game. It was just too hard for him to not be a part of the action.
“It’s difficult. I don’t like to go out in the bowl and watch,” Rupp said. “It eats at you. You feel helpless. If I can get back in there it’s an opportunity to contribute in any way that I can.”
Rupp may get his wish when the puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. for Game 2. Though nothing is official, Rupp skated the past two days on the team’s fourth line with Maxime Talbot and Craig Adams
– an indication that he may get his opportunity.
I’m preparing like I’m playing. I’m hoping to get in there, and just playing my game. … I’m just going to do my job and play the way that I play. I think that is something that I need to bring, and all of us need to bring, doing the simple things, getting in there, finishing checks, making it hard on the other team. I feel like that’s what I bring to the table and I’m looking to do that tonight - Mike Rupp
“I’m preparing like I’m playing,” he said. “I’m hoping to get in there, and just playing my game. … I’m just going to do my job and play the way that I play. I think that is something that I need to bring, and all of us need to bring, doing the simple things, getting in there, finishing checks, making it hard on the other team. I feel like that’s what I bring to the table and I’m looking to do that tonight.”
Another thing the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Sasquatch brings to the table is physicality, grit, power and even a little skill.
“When he plays his best game you’ll see that he has five hits and he’s a factor on the forecheck,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “When he gets a chance to play for us he’s going to be counted on being a factor in the offensive zone, along the walls. (The Senators are) a team that pinches along the walls. With his body and size, along with his forecheck, he can be a real factor and presence against this defense.”
“Rupper is definitely going to bring another aspect which maybe we missed in Game 1,” Talbot said. “He obviously brings a big body and a lot of physicality. I can say that it is going to be a huge addition in terms of putting the puck deep and trying to bang their defensemen before they bang us.”
Rupp has played in various roles for the team this season. He has done everything from being a fourth line grinder to skating alongside captain Sidney Crosby
on the top line.
He has even flashed some quick hands and an accurate shout en route to setting new career highs with 13 goals (seven more than his previous best mark) and 19 points. He also recorded his first career hat trick with three goals at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers on Nov. 30.
But he played the majority of the regular season on the fourth line. Rupp is very comfortable working in that spot and has developed some chemistry over the year with Talbot and Adams.
“Addsy and Talbot are hard-working guys that do the little things, same as myself,” Rupp said. “We’re going to look to do that, and hopefully play the way that we’re capable of playing and the way that our team wants to play.”
If Rupp is in the lineup, the Penguins know that they add a more physical element to balance their naturally gifted scoring attack. And instead of not watching the contest, Rupp will have a chance to show what he adds to the team.
“When you talk about what Mike Rupp has brought to our team and can bring to our team and how he is a factor in the game, that’s a great example of him getting on the forecheck,” Bylsma said. “He has created offensive zone time and big hits being that guy with the speed through the neutral zone when pucks are behind the defense and crashing in there and being a big body. That’s what Mike Rupp does and does well. He certainly can add to our team.”