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The Waiting Game

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
The most dangerous weapon in the postseason is rest. In a brutal, two-month war of attrition – otherwise known as the Stanley Cup playoffs – the few days off in between series helps to heal wounds, recharge the batteries and gain new focus for the next round’s showdown.

The Penguins find themselves in the fortunate situation of having the last four days off, waiting in limbo for their conference semifinals opponent to be determined. Pittsburgh eliminated the Ottawa Senators last Saturday with a 4-3 overtime victory at Scotiabank Place.

“We played a tough series and you always want to get rest,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “You always want to try and get as healthy as you can. Sometimes that’s mental as well as physical. It’s good to take a break from seeing yourself, reading about yourself, hearing about the next game and take a break, then rev back up for the next round.”

“Physically you can rest a little bit and work out your body to be stronger for the next round,” forward Maxime Talbot said. “Some guys are hurt in the playoffs. You just take some time to heal injuries. Mentally it’s a matter of getting ready. We don’t know who we’re playing yet but who cares? We’ll get as ready as we can for anybody.”

We played a tough series and you always want to get rest. You always want to try and get as healthy as you can. Sometimes that’s mental as well as physical. It’s good to take a break from seeing yourself, reading about yourself, hearing about the next game and take a break, then rev back up for the next round. - Dan Bylsma
The Washington-Montreal series concludes Wednesday night in a Game 7 showdown. The winner of that series will determine whom the Penguins, who will have home-ice in the second round regardless, next opponent will be. A Montreal win and the Canadiens will come to Pittsburgh. A Washington victory means the Penguins will draw the Boston Bruins.

“Either way, it’s good,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “You’re moving on. It doesn’t really matter. For us, we have a couple of guys who are injured, so it’s not a totally bad thing for us to have a few days off to hopefully heal up.”

Pittsburgh’s second-round schedule is still unknown and will depend on whom the Penguins play and the availability of arenas. The Penguins may not see game action again until Friday or even Sunday, meaning the team could have five to seven days off.

“It’s really important (mentally),” Crosby said. “That’s probably more important than anything.  That’s the toughest part of the playoffs – mentally dealing with it day to day. To get a few days just to relax and watch other teams and things like that, it’s nice.”

“I think it was good,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “Some guys have bruises so they have time to relax and be fresh heading into the next round.”

The Penguins are also using the time to get healthy. Jordan Leopold, who has been out of the lineup since suffering a head injury in Game 2, practiced with his teammates for the first time Wednesday without contact. Forward Tyler Kennedy, sidelined since Game 4 with a lower body injury, skated on Monday.

"(Leopold) has been progressing and doing well," Bylsma said. "This was the next step, seeing him on the ice with his teammates in a non-contact situation. There is no timetable at this time."

While every player enjoys some time off to heal their body, mind and soul, some players don’t want to have too much downtime, preferring to get back into the routine of game action.

“I think if you have a day off it is good for everybody,” defenseman Sergei Gonchar said. “You don’t want to have too many days in between. You have a chance to take care of your injuries. I don’t want to sit down for a week straight but a few days are good.”

The Penguins coaching staff had the task of juggling the team’s workload over the game-free stretch. The crew had the delicate duty of balancing the schedule so that the team gets an adequate amount of time off to rest their wounds while getting enough on-ice work to remain sharp for when the games resume.

Following their Game 6 series clinching victory over Ottawa, the coaching staff gave the Penguins two days off to get away from hockey. Pittsburgh returned to practice Tuesday, and each day’s workload has gotten progressively more intense.

“After two days off, I think that you just try to get your feet back under you and at least get somewhat of a pace going,” Crosby said. “We know that the next couple of days will be intense practices and ones that will get us ready for whoever we play. I think that you just try to go out there and make sure that you’re getting back to that pace as best as you can in the next few days.”

The team has used the practice to work on honing the little things in its games. But once the second round matchups are determined, the Penguins will shift their focus to game planning for their opponent.

“There are certain things and certain habits and certain parts of our game plan that won’t change based on the team that we play,” Bylsma said. “There are parts of the game plan between the two options that we do have that will be the same. It won’t matter which team it is. Some of that on the ice involved starting to put in their minds how we need to execute against these teams.

“Some of it will definitely change once we know who our opponent is. You try to get into the habits that involve what you want your team to do, but you also try to start on something that won’t change regardless of who you play. There are a few things that we can continue to do while we don’t know whom we’re going to play. As a coaching staff, we’re starting to prepare for both. We won’t have enough time to wait and see. When we know, we’ll deliver that to the players and will show that at practice, as well.”

The Penguins will shift gears at the conclusion of Wednesday’s Washington-Montreal outcome. But the true test of how beneficial their time off was will be determined once the puck drops to start the semifinals at Mellon Arena.

“I’ve been a part of breaks that were long and good for the team; I’ve been a part of breaks that were long and didn’t turn out the right result,” Bylsma said. “Rest is no good if you don’t work. We worked hard in the Ottawa series and are taking some rest. … We’ll take the rest. We’ll do what we need to do physically and mentally to get ready for when we start.”

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