The Pens know they didn’t bring their best game in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay on Friday. And after a day off on Saturday, they got together on Sunday to discuss just how they can do that in Game 2 on Monday here at CONSOL Energy Center.
“We had a meeting about our last game yesterday, and now we put that behind us,” winger Patric Hornqvist said. “We will be better tonight. We have to clean up some areas and come out with a little more juice here tonight. If we do that, we’re going to be fine.”
Head coach Mike Sullivan said elevating the intensity level was part of their message to the players. The other part was making sure they don’t beat themselves. They felt there wasn’t enough attention to detail and too much poor decision-making with the puck in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss to open the series.
“I think when our team’s been at its best, for most of this playoffs, we have a much more diligent approach and we don’t give our opponents any freebies,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ve got to make sure that we force them to work for their chances and we’ve got to limit the quality of their chances. We didn’t give up much, but what we gave up was very high quality and I think that’s something we have to do a better job of as a group moving forward.”
The Pens have done a tremendous job of being resilient and bouncing back after losses under Sullivan, as they haven’t dropped consecutive games since Jan. 12-15 against Carolina and Tampa Bay. They don’t expect that to change tonight.
“We’ve been able to put (losses) behind us and focus on the next one,” forward Nick Bonino said. “I think especially since Sully’s got here, we’ve been good at not losing two in a row. It will be a big hole if that happens tonight, so we know what we’ve got to do.”
“We know if we have a bad game we always come out the next game flying and play our best,” Hornqvist added. “So everybody’s excited, everybody’s happy and everybody’s smiling and looking forward to the game.”
POTENTIAL LINE CHANGES
The Pens held an optional skate this morning. Chris Kunitz and Tom Kuhnhackl were on the ice after taking maintenance days on Sunday. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel were the only absences.
The Pens did not do line rushes on Monday, but if the trios on Sunday are any indication, there could be changes coming to the forward group. The most notable one would be Bryan Rust playing left wing alongside Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, who would move over to the right.
What Sullivan likes about having those two kids flank Crosby is the quickness they would bring.
“If they play together, they have a lot of speed,” Sullivan said. “’Rusty’ can really chase down pucks. He’s very good defensively. He’s got good awareness. He’s good on the wall. For me, he’s a guy that brings a lot of speed to any line that he plays on and so he can chase down pucks, he can force turnovers and through that he creates opportunity.”
That speed aspect is huge for the Pens, considering the behemoths Tampa Bay has on their blue line – with three of their top-six defenders measuring 6-foot-5 or taller. Those players did a tremendous job of using their long reaches to defend against the Pens and limit them offensively in Game 1.
Heading into Game 2, the Pens know they have to play behind them more and that starts with chipping pucks deep and barreling in after them – something that both Rust and Sheary excel at.
“We have to kind of get inside of them,” Rust said. “We have to get behind them and make them turn and make them use their feet a little bit more.”
Rust has seen time with the captain before, and has learned what he needs to do in order to be successful. A lot of it has to do with anticipating plays, which isn’t always the easiest considering how Crosby thinks the game.
“It’s just being more prepared for passes or plays in certain situations that might not happen with other guys because he is able to make so many good plays on his forehand and his backhand,” Rust explained. “He’s so consistent with it that’s it’s just being ready out there, but as far as my game’s concerned it’s not a whole lot different.”
When asked his opinion on line changes at this point of the year – whether it’s expected or something that should be avoided this deep into the playoffs – Crosby said no matter what the tweaks are, it shouldn’t drastically change each person’s role.
“As far as individually what our jobs are, it doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s not like guys are playing totally different positions, necessarily. I think it’s just a matter of knowing who you’re playing with and doing what you need to do individually. But this time of year, it can happen so quickly with injuries and different stuff going on. You just kind of roll with it and make sure that you’re playing well.”
Bonino, on if they try to do anything differently or if they approach the game the same way: “Just make some better reads maybe, better decisions. They’re quick out of their zone, and if we commit too many guys they’re going to go the other way. They got a breakaway, they got a 2-on-1, and they capitalized on both. Murray made a lot of big saves for us, and we can’t expect him to make every save like that. We have to help him out, and we have to limit those.”
Cole, on how critical this game is tonight: “I don’t know what the stats are all-time about going down 2-0, but i can’t imagine they’re very good. We are very aware of the situation, and we certainly want to make sure that we come out and put our best effort out there. I think that’s the key to us being successful."
Daley, on how close this is to being a must-win: “Every game is a must-win in the playoffs. You only get so many chances, so we feel every night is a must-win game. Tonight obviously being down one, a little bit more, but we feel we have more. We can be a little bit better, and we’re going to have to be tonight.”
Fehr, on what they’ve seen on film over the last couple days: “I thought we did a lot of good things in Game 1. I don’t think it was a complete write-off. I think we had a lot of good opportunities. I think their goaltending was great, and if we capitalize on a couple of those opportunities it’s a bit of a different game. But there are definitely some areas where we want to improve, and we looked at it over the last couple of days here.”
Kuhnhackl, on Hedman recovering to negate a scoring chance in Game 1: “I was wondering where that stick came from. I thought I had him beat, and I thought I was going to get the shot off, and all of a sudden the puck was gone. I don’t know where the stick came from, but he made a great recovery play there.”