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The Inside Scoop: Game 5 vs. Caps

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Good afternoon from the nation’s capital. Tonight the Pens will try to eliminate the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of their Second Round series.

“We know that the elimination game is the most difficult that you’re going to get,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re going to get Washington’s best game. We have to have our very best game in order to win. We’re going to have to play with a heightened intensity, heightened sense of urgency, more attention to detail. We’re going to have to have our very best.”

Pittsburgh has a 3-1 series lead. The Capitals took Game 1, 4-3, in overtime. But since then it’s been all Pens as they’ve rattled off three consecutive wins. And now, they have an opportunity to finish off the Caps.

“You have to have that desperation level, you know they’ll have it,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “Hopefully you’re able to bring that same urgency with the opportunity to close a series, but also understand that it’s always the hardest one.”

The Pens held an optional morning skate at Verizon Center. It was largely attended with only notable absences of Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Sullivan noted that Kris Letang will be back in the lineup after serving his one-game suspension and Olli Maatta will not play. The rest of the lineup – including injured players Eric Fehr and Bryan Rust – will be a game-time decision.

“At this point in the season there aren’t too many guys playing that aren’t nicked up, because that’s playoff hockey, and that’s what players go through,” Sullivan said. “That’s the sacrifices that you make for the ultimate goal.”

Rust has been dealing with a lower-body injury, suffered in Game 3 after blocking a shot. Rust played in Game 4 and had a maintenance day on Friday, but was on the ice with his teammates for the optional morning practice this morning.

“I feel pretty good. It was nice to have an extra day of rest,” Rust said. “I’m a little banged up. The more time (off), the better. When I get a chance, I rest. When I have to play, I play.”

Rust said as long as everything goes well, he will be in the lineup. Coach Sullivan knows what the addition of Rust means for his team.

 “’Rusty’ brings a lot of energy to the team regardless of what line we put him on,” he said. “He helps us win. He helps us get momentum. He helps us get the puck back. He puts our opponents under pressure. When you have that it helps us establish the game that we want to play.

“Rusty makes us a better team. He helps us win when he’s in our lineup.”

The Pens know that the Caps are going to open tonight’s game at full force since their season is on the line. One key facet to tonight’s game is how Pittsburgh handles the Caps start and weathering that storm.

“You expect them to come out really hard at home and in this position,” Crosby said. “For us, I think we’ve done a really good job with our starts, making sure that we initiate and dictate things out there is important. We know they’re going to be desperate and make sure that we handle it the right way.”

“I think it’s important just to weather the storm early,” Fehr said. “I think this team’s going to come out with everything they have and it’s going to be important for us to try to control our emotions and make sure we’re making good plays early.”

Sullivan on Kunitz: “When he plays with that energy he helps us keep the puck, and he has the talent level and ability to make plays. His game is at its best when he’s moving his feet and skating, and has a little bit of reckless abandon in his game.”

Sullivan on scouting opponents: “In today’s game there aren’t a lot of secrets with technology, teams are very familiar with one another. Everybody knows what we’re up against, what the challenges are, how we have to play in order to be successful.”

Crosby on facing Nicklas Backstrom: “He’s really smart at both ends of the ice. He can shoot the puck well and slow the play down if he needs to. He’s always around the net, so he can make a lot of plays there. His hockey sense is so good at both ends of the ice. You have to be ready to work at both ends yourself if you’re playing against him.”

Crosby on Letang’s return: “He’ll be well rested and flying around out there tonight.”

Fehr on the series: “It’s been interesting for sure. It’s really tough to explain when you’re going against some of your good friends and you’re leaving it all out there. You’re hitting as hard as you can and you’re trying to score. It’s a little bit different, but it’s something I’ve become more used to as the year’s gone on.”

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