After about two hours, they got into town and went straight to the Class of 1932 Arena on the University of Penn’s campus for one last practice before they finish the regular season on Saturday afternoon against the Flyers.
Winger Beau Bennett participated after missing Thursday’s game due to injury, which head coach Mike Sullivan said is the same one he’s been dealing with for the past three months and they need to be somewhat cautious with it.
“Just got to take every day by day and the position I’m in right now, I’ve just got to try and improve every day,” Bennett said. “It’s tough because it’s something where I really need maybe a little time to let it heal but for right now, every day is a new adventure for me and I just got to hopefully get better.”
- While Sullivan ruled out Evgeni Malkin (upper-body), Olli Maatta (lower-body) and Bryan Rust (lower-body) for the rest of the regular season, Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) was listed as day-to-day.
And while Sullivan said there is a possibility he could play tomorrow, it’s probably not going to happen.
“Would we like to get him in a game (before playoffs)? Sure we would. That’s not always possible,” Sullivan said. “We know Marc is making progress and that’s a positive sign. That’s encouraging from our standpoint.”
When pressed, Sullivan did not commit to saying whether Fleury would be ready to go for Game 1 of the First Round.
“With the nature of Marc’s injury, it’s kind of a day-by-day thing. I’d rather not even comment on it,” Sullivan said. “We’ll just take each day as it comes. We know he’s making progress. That’s encouraging. Hopefully he can continue to do so.”
- With the Pens having clinched home ice in the First Round of the postseason, there is technically nothing to play for in the last game of the regular season.
In that scenario, sometimes the team will scratch certain players to avoid any potential injuries and get them rested up heading into the playoffs. Sullivan said they will decide Saturday whether or not to do that.
“We’ll re-evaluate and see what we have as far as who’s healthy and who isn’t at this point,” he said. “There’s not a lot of options.”
The players will respect his decision regardless of what it is.
“It’s up to him,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think if you’re in, you get ready to play. You know that it’s going to be an intense game. You can’t be half in it, half out of it. You’ve got to be ready to play. If that’s not the case, you prepare accordingly.”
HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED
At this point last season, the Pens had to win their final game of the regular season on the road against Buffalo to secure a postseason berth.
How things have changed.
“Yeah, that was a little different,” Crosby said with a smile. “A little bit more attention going into that one. It was a much different feeling. We were just scraping to get in there and it felt like so many times we were going to have that night where we finally got it and we didn’t and it took all the way to that last one. It’s much better to be in this situation.”
This time, the Pens the hottest team in the NHL. They’ve won eight in a row and 14 of their last 15 games, clinching a playoff spot back on April 2 and securing home ice in the First Round with their 4-3 overtime victory over Washington on Thursday night.
“We want to make it nine and get in the playoffs in the right mindset,” Patric Hornqvist said. “Everybody’s looking forward to the playoffs, so just one more game here and then we’re in.”
For this one last game, a number of players said their goal was to continue playing the right way.
“I think that we’ve got to this point doing things right and having a strong work ethic and playing together,” Crosby said. “So I think just to finish strong and make sure we can get some momentum here going into the playoffs.”
“Everybody’s working,” Hornqvist added. “We don’t have anyone who’s cheating out there. Everybody is doing the right things and when we do that, it’s hard to beat us.”
It will be a tough task for the Flyers, who are in a similar situation to what the Pens dealt with last year. They still haven’t officially earned a postseason berth, sitting in ninth place. They're one point behind the two teams they're competing with, Detroit and Boston, with two games in hand. Any sort of loss to their hated rival certainly wouldn’t help their chances.
“They have a lot to play for and it would be fun to kick them out of the playoffs, too,” Hornqvist said.
ALL 82 GAMES
Right now, there are four Penguins who have the chance to play in all 82 games if they dress on Saturday: Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Phil Kessel and Hornqvist.
Considering the grind of a season and how intense each and every game is, the guys said it would be something special if they were able to accomplish that. Especially Hornqvist, who plays such a punishing style of hockey and takes a beating around the crease every night.
“It’s never happened before,” Hornqvist pointed out. “I’m proud of that. I’m in front of the net a lot. I got a little luck this year and hopefully can keep going here.”
Cullen, who turned 39 a few weeks into the season, said he has been working towards this point since the offseason.
“It actually kind of was something I was shooting for,” Cullen said. “I put a lot of time in the summer trying to get the body in as good of shape as possible and this is something that I was definitely hoping for.”